- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The South Dakota House on Monday voted to outlaw non-emergency abortions in South Dakota at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The House voted 59-7 for the bill, which offers some exemptions for women in medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest. Changes made in the House will be considered by the Senate, which approved a different version of the measure. If the Senate backs the changes, the bill would then go to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for approval.

A spokeswoman for Daugaard said in an email that he is anti-abortion and “has a record of protecting life,” but is reserving judgment on the bill until it reaches his desk.

The proposed ban is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has gathered evidence that fetal pain is unlikely until weeks later.

The measure recognizes “the humanity of unborn children” who can feel pain, said Republican Rep. Isaac Latterell, the measure’s main House sponsor.

“These are people just like you and me,” he said.

The bill would allow the abortion if there is a medical emergency, but a claim or diagnosis that a woman intends to kill or harm herself aren’t part of the exemption.

Under the bill, performing an abortion that violates the new threshold would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. A woman who gets such an abortion would not be subject to that consequence.

South Dakota currently limits abortions at 24 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights nonprofit.

Democratic Rep. Peggy Gibson, an opponent of the measure, said no politician can decide what’s best for a woman and her family in every circumstance.

“These decisions are heartbreaking, they are personal and they are private,” said Democratic Rep. Paula Hawks, who also voted against the bill.

The state’s only abortion clinic, in Sioux Falls, doesn’t perform abortions after a pregnancy reaches 14 weeks, according to Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. Three major South Dakota health systems have said they terminate pregnancies only in life-threatening or terminal circumstances.

In 2014, there were 551 induced abortions performed in South Dakota, according to Department of Health figures. At least 26 occurred at 13 weeks or later, according to the department.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that measure does not yet go to the governor; the Senate must first consider changes the House made.

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