Attorney General Jackley says he’s got evidence of petition circulation violations by pro-abortion group

PIERRE, S.D.(The Dakota Scout)- Alleged violations of election law by petition collectors behind an abortion rights ballot proposal have the attention of South Dakota’s top prosecutor.

The Attorney General’s Office this week issued a warning to Dakotans for Health that it has received video and photographic evidence that the ballot question committee has violated multiple South Dakota statutes related to petition circulation, including leaving petitions unattended, allowing registered voters to sign a petition more than once and providing misleading information to signers.

“The purpose of this letter is again to encourage you as the sponsor to work with circulators to comply with the requirements of South Dakota law … to avoid or limit allegations that signatories are being misled,” Attorney General Marty Jackley wrote in the two-page letter.

Dakotans for Health is proposing a repeal of South Dakota’s near-total prohibition of abortion, which took effect in 2022 following the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade being struck down. In its place, the group will ask voters to approve new abortion legislation that would again make abortions legal in South Dakota.

Dakotans for Health’s website states, that if passed, the proposed constitutional amendment would allow South Dakota policymakers to regulate abortion during the second trimester and effectively ban it in the third.

However, Jackley – an anti-abortion Republican – said that’s not an accurate portrayal of what the measure would do if passed by voters.

He cited the Attorney General’s Office explanation issued ahead of the secretary of state certifying Dakotans for Health’s ballot language last year, which notes that abortion would remain legal for women during the second and third trimesters if “reasonably related to the physical health of the pregnant woman,” or “determined by the pregnant woman’s physician according to the physician’s medical judgment.”

“Any suggestion that your proposed abortion amendment makes abortion legal only for the first trimester is contrary to the language of the proposed amendment and Interim Attorney General Vargo’s ballot explanation,” Jackley wrote.

Mark Vargo was attorney general before Jackley took over.

Jackley’s warning comes after Dakotans for Health’s chief rival, Life Defense Fund, brought the alleged violations to the Attorney General’s Office’s attention, submitting the video and photographic evidence cited by Jackley. The Life Defense Fund has been leading an anti-ballot measure campaign urging South Dakotans to “Decline to Sign” Dakotans for Health’s petition in hopes of preventing the proposed amendment from qualifying for the 2024 ballot.

“Abortion amendment petition circulators have been misleading South Dakotans about their amendment,” wrote Rep. Jon Hansen, co-chairman of Life Defense Fund, in a statement provided to The Dakota Scout. “The attorney general’s letter substantiates the truth; the abortion amendment would allow for abortion through all nine months of pregnancy — including and up to birth.”

Dakotans for Health petitions will be due to the Secretary of State’s Office in May. It will take more than 35,000 signatures from eligible registered voters in order to be placed on the general election ballot in November 2024.