Life Defense Fund attempts to block abortion rights ballot

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELOLAND) – The anti-abortion rights group, Life Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit against Dakotans for Health in an effort to block an abortion rights measure from the November ballot.

In the lawsuit from Thursday, Life Defense Fund claims Dakotans for Health violated state laws including failing to give out circulator handouts and misleading petition signers.

Dakotans for Health garnered 54,281 signatures for the constitutional amendment petition, exceeding the needed 35,017 signatures. In May, Secretary of State Monae Johnson validated the reproductive rights amendment.

In a Friday press release, Dakotans for Health Co-Founder Rick Weiland called the lawsuit a “desperate, last ditch attempt.”

According to the court documents, the Secretary of State’s office reviewed a random sample of the petition signatures, which was 723 signatures. They found 109 invalid signatures. The court documents say if 257 signatures are invalid, Dakotans for Health doesn’t meet the required signature count to put the measure on the ballot in November.

Life Defense Fund argued that if they could find 148 more invalid signatures, the court would have to throw out the petition. The anti-abortion rights groups found 174 additional invalid signatures due to signers not being registered to vote, signers not given the legally required information before signing or petition circulators moving out of South Dakota, among other reasons.

The group also alleges that Dakotans for Health committed fraud by inducing signatures and misleading petition signers. The lawsuit says circulators would ask potential signers their thoughts on the grocery tax amendment and then hand them the abortion petition to sign.

“Such trickery to obtain individual signatures and to induce the general public to support the cause by signing the petition should not be tolerated and the entire petition should be deemed invalid due to such misleading and fraudulent conduct,” according to the lawsuit.

“LDF has pulled out all the stops to try and deny the people the right to decide this issue at the ballot box,” Weiland said in the release. “… They have thrown everything they could, and now the kitchen sink, to stop the voters from weighing in this November.  We are confident that the people of South Dakota are going to be able to make this decision, not the politicians, come this November.”

“The public should scrutinize Dakotan for Health’s comments and carefully consider its credibility,” said  Life Defense Fund’s attorney Sara Frankenstein in an email. “In the end, the court will determine whether such unlawful conduct may result in the measure being included on the ballot.”