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Sutton Votes Pro-Choice 20%, Called for Reversing Roe v. Wade in 2013

Some of my readers have asked me where South Dakota’s main Democratic candidate for governor, Senator Billie Sutton, stands on women’s reproductive rights. At peril of triggering Karl Rove’s critique of Democrats’ intolerance on abortion, I find that on ten relatively important abortion-related bills or resolutions during his seven Sessions in Pierre, Senator Sutton has voted with pro-choice advocates only twice.

The table below lists the bills and resolutions that come up under the subject “Abortion” under the LRC’s classification in each Session from 2011 to 2017, plus two that escaped that indexing in 2013. If I’ve missed any, do let me know, and I’ll add them. On this table, I mark in bold the eleven measures I subjectively deem more important to determining women’s rights to access abortion services. Sutton was excused from one of those votes.

Bill Title Pro-Choice Vote Sutton Vote Notes
2017 HB 1101 increase the penalty for performing an abortion of an unborn child capable of feeling pain. nay nay increases penalty from C1 misdemeanor to C6 felony under 2016 SB 72 fetal pain bill
2017 SB 102 require that the name and telephone number of an organization fighting to end sex trafficking be given, in writing, to any woman seeking an abortion. nay aye passed 33-0 in Senate, 66-1 House, Tieszen only nay
2016 HB 1123 require the Department of Health to include certain information regarding the inspection of an abortion facility on the department’s website. nay aye passed 35-0 in Senate, 60-8 in House
2016 HB 1157 require that a doctor provide a woman additional information as a part of informed consent prior to performing an abortion. nay yea NARAL-PCSD said “medically unproven info”
2016 HB 1212 revise requirements related to pregnancy help centers. nay yea arguable: allows PHC to have social worker; puts PHC group in charge of regulating self
2016 SB 24 prohibit the sale of fetal body parts and to provide a penalty therefor. nay yea unanimous in both houses; culture war distraction
2016 SB 72 prohibit the abortion of an unborn child who is capable of experiencing pain and to provide a penalty therefor. nay yea NARAL-PCSD no; Senate 21-14, then 26-7 on House amendments
2015 HB 1079 revise the deadline for the Department of Health’s annual report regarding abortions. yea set deadline as Nov 15
2015 HB 1130 prohibit an abortion provider from accepting payment for an abortion prior to the end of the required informed consent period. nay yea unnecessary, insult to women
2015 HB 1155 require that information be provided to a pregnant mother whose child tests positive for Down syndrome. died in House
2015 HB 1156 prohibit the performance of abortions due to Down syndrome and to provide a penalty therefor. withdrawn in House cmte  
2015 HB 1230 affirm the sanctity of human life. tabled in Senate cmte   originally banning abortion by beheading
2014 HB 1162 prohibit the practice of sex-selective abortions, to establish certain procedures to better ensure that sex-selective abortions are not practiced in South Dakota, and to provide penalties therefor. nay yea compels speech
2014 HB 1180 provide that no entity that places children for adoption or performs abortions may be registered as a pregnancy help center. nay nay forces women to visit abortion opponents for counseling
2014 HB 1240 prohibit the performance of abortions due to Down syndrome and to provide a penalty therefor. died in House cmte  
2014 HB 1241 prohibit the dismemberment or decapitation of certain living unborn children and to provide penalties therefore. died in House cmte  
2013 HB 1237 revise certain provisions to abortion counseling. nay excused exclude weekends and holidays from 72-hour waiting period
2013 HCR 1002 Urging the United States Supreme Court to revisit the Roe v. Wade case and to overturn its decision. nay yea Overturn Roe v. Wade, and SD’s 2005 abortion ban becomes near total except health/life mother
2012 HB 1150 prohibit false advertising by limited services pregnancy centers and to provide for judicial relief. yea, but died in House cmte   Gibson sponsored; Peters signed on as co-sponsor; Sutton did not
2012 HB 1185 prohibit all qualified health plans offered through a health care exchange from including abortion coverage. nay yea  
2012 HB 1254 revise certain provisions pertaining to the decision of a pregnant mother considering termination of her relationship with her child by an abortion, to establish certain procedures to insure that such decisions are voluntary, uncoerced, and informed, and to revise certain causes of action for professional negligence relating to performance of an abortion. nay yea makes coercive counseling law worse
2012 HCR 1001 Recognizing the week of January 22, 2012, through January 28, 2012, as Reproductive Rights Awareness Week. yea, but died in House cmte   Buhl, Frerichs, Maher, Peters sponsored; Sutton did not
2011 HB 1217 establish certain legislative findings pertaining to the decision of a pregnant mother considering termination of her relationship with her child by an abortion, to establish certain procedures to better insure that such decisions are voluntary, uncoerced, and informed, and to revise certain causes of action for professional negligence relating to performance of an abortion. nay yea forced counseling, 72-hour waiting period…

Sutton’s first major abortion vote may have had the most negative impact on South Dakota women. In 2011, Sutton supported House Bill 1217, which imposed South Dakota’s egregious 72-hour waiting period and forced “counseling” sessions for women seeing abortions. In 2016, Sutton supported Senate Bill 72, a 20-week abortion ban based on dubious science about “fetal pain.” To his credit, Sutton this year resisted Republicans’ effort to toughen that “fetal pain” ban. Sutton’s nay on House Bill 1101 didn’t stop Republicans from raising the penalty in the “fetal pain” ban from misdemeanor to felony, but Sutton gets a point for trying. But in seven years, he has scored only two pro-choice points out of ten.

The signal vote of those ten may actually be a vote that had no practical impact. In 2013, Senator Billie Sutton voted in favor of House Concurrent Resolution 1002, which called on the United States Supreme Court to revisit and overturn Roe v. Wade. 2013 HCR 1002 read in full:

WHEREAS, on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade; and

WHEREAS, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, a dissenter in the case, described the decision by the majority as “an exercise of raw judicial power”; and

WHEREAS, the case overturned state laws in forty-six states; and

WHEREAS, the decision in Roe v. Wade overturned South Dakota’s state statutes on the subject of abortion; and

WHEREAS, technological advances in the last forty years such as invitro photography have documented the clear humanity of the unborn child; and

WHEREAS, Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the case (the actual Roe), now repudiates and regrets her involvement in the case; and

WHEREAS, this case has resulted in the death of countless millions of unborn children in our nation:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty-Eighth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that we do hereby urge the United States Supreme Court to revisit the Roe v. Wade case, to overturn its decision, and to allow this issue to be decided at the state level as it was prior to January 22, 1973 [2013 HCR 1002, as enrolled 2013.01.29].

Senator Sutton’s colleague down the road in Pickstown, Senator Larry Lucas, spoke against HCR 1002 and explained that if the Supreme Court did take South Dakota up on its invitation and overturned Roe v. Wade, our 2005 abortion ban would immediately take effect and outlaw all abortions, with exceptions only for the health of the pregnant woman. Senator Sutton did not speak to the resolution; he simply voted for it.

As we know, resolutions do nothing. Resolutions are far too often exercises in rhetorical grandstanding for legislators who’d rather be somewhere else than in Pierre solving practical, state-level problems. Nonetheless, in 2013, Senator Sutton agreed to a resolution that calls for the reversal of the basic case law guaranteeing women’s right to abortion.

Sutton wasn’t a dad when he cast that vote. I didn’t realize the importance of Roe v. Wade and keeping government out of women’s bodies until I watched my wife go through pregnancy. Watching a woman one loves make decisions about her body puts in stark context what’s at stake in government trying to limit or usurp those decisions. Perhaps fatherhood has similarly tempered Sutton’s views on who else besides a woman and her doctor should be involved in deciding how to conduct her pregnancy.

But Sutton’s mostly anti-choice voting record, including a call to trash Roe v. Wade, is what it is. If fatherhood or any other experiences or contemplations have pulled his views more toward women’s rights, Sutton will have to explain that on the campaign trail… and a look at his campaign statements and website indicate that Sutton wants to talk about jobs, education, agriculture, and his faith in God, not women’s reproductive rights.

Of course, if Democrats are stuck with a gubernatorial candidate whose score on an admittedly subjective and perhaps incomplete scorecard is a measly two points out of ten, that’s still two more points than any other declared candidate is going to score. Republican candidate Kristi Noem sponsored and voted for all sorts of anti-choice legislation when she was in the House from 2007 to 2010 (sonogram requirements, ban on all elective abortion). Marty Jackley has had the pleasure of defending South Dakota’s abortion restrictions in court and uses his position as attorney general to weigh in favorably on other states’ efforts to quash abortion as well. Dark-horse Republicans Terry LaFleur and Lora Hubbel offer no better alternatives.

But 20% versus 0% doesn’t give me cheer on this issue. If you’re looking for a South Dakota governor with a clear and consistent commitment to women’s reproductive autonomy, you’re looking for a candidate who hasn’t declared yet.


  1. Kris 2017-08-10 15:46

    That surprises me. I guess I hadn’t been paying attention. But honestly, who doesn’t hate abortion? With that said, I hate having no choice even more. But go ahead and defund Planned Parenthood so there are more unplanned/unwanted pregnancies. There is no abundance of sense out there.

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-10 16:33

    In the political realm, the question is not simply, “Do we hate X?” but “Does the government have a proper role in regulating/prohibiting X?”

  3. Kris 2017-08-10 20:30

    Exactly. But for argument sake, there are some regulations I require. Environmental and animal protections/regulations, gun control/regulations, education regulations, etc. So, “proper role” is a term that is vast and in keeping with my “sake of argument”, it all depends on whose ox is being gored. I think the question is, does ideology trump (I hate using that word these days) common sense? And that begs the question, whose common sense? Well, mine of course would be heard from both sides on every issue. No wonder we are a politically divided nation. I could now start bitching about how frustrating it is to be a liberal in SD but I’m sure that’s been discussed ad nauseam. :-)

  4. leslie 2017-08-10 20:41

    wakeup listening to bbc, then diluted npr, then SDPB which is awful for the most part, add in the most recent daily trump idocy, ponder how and who elected him, listen to rush or Hannity for 5 minutes, wonder how the right can be overcome, and then depression sets in. “yeah. nice taking to yah, i’m glad we did this.” Jack Nicholson, “As good as it gets?” :)sorta

  5. leslie 2017-08-10 20:48

    oh, on abortion, Billie can’t be defended, but he’s got most everything else right.

  6. Mark Young 2017-08-10 22:39

    Does anyone in the Democratic Party think a 100% Pro-choice Democrat could win a statewide office in South Dakota?

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-11 07:59

    Yes… especially if we explain it from the Libertarian viewpoint that what happens between a woman, her doctor, and her conscience is none of government’s business.

  8. Greg 2017-08-11 08:21

    One would ask the Democratic Party, is Billie Sutton all you have for a candidate. I think the GOP wins again in 2018.

  9. jerry 2017-08-11 09:23

    I dunno about asking the Democratic Party about why Billie Sutton is the right candidate for governor, but I do know that he is. The truth meter is on and when you compare Billie Sutton with the little fibber, NOem or the slippery eel Jackley, Billie Sutton is well above them in his integrity and transparency for the State of South Dakota. The state needs a good dose of integrity to wash off the stench from the last few cult regimes.

  10. Adam 2017-08-11 10:32

    For almost 4 decades now, the people of South Dakota have been crying out to the heavens for God to finally bring them a Pro-Life Democrat to run for Governor.

    But where does Billy stand on ‘the gays?’ How does he plan to break down barriers to gun ownership? Just how much does he love his Lord? As Governor, how would he help us get Hillary behind bars?

    Rurals deserve answers to their MOST pressing questions.

  11. buckobear 2017-08-11 12:49

    I wasn’t aware that “the Hillary” lived in SD. Maybe Adam just wants to imprison residents named Hillary. Egad.

  12. Adam 2017-08-11 13:04

    I am concerned that there may not be enough non-Evangelical Christians in SD to give Billy’s Pro-Life position any traction against Dale and Marty’s honed and poised BS manufacturing systems.

    If the 2018 Pro-Life SD Democrats don’t do any better (or worse) than the all the Pro-Choice Dems that came before them, let it prove that tailoring the Dem. message to Evangelicals is a complete and total waste of time in the future.

    No one ever thought the abortion issue is how Trump won SD. It was about business, jobs, intolerence, name calling, bold yet plausible lies, and a sense of injustice about how the country is moving forward BUT NOT in our little corner of America.

    Quietly calling yourself Pro-Life (just to avoid being called a Baby Killer) doesn’t say crap about just how much the Lord is your guide.

    I already have a dandy of a time pulling the lever for anyone who where’s a cowboy hat.

    Sutton needs his candidacy to be all about the Republicans, not himself. That’s what it takes. It’s just science, but no one expects a SD dude with a cowboy hat to be on top of that. We’ll see if he can learn through experience and adjust his plan if/once he sees that that his current approach isn’t bringing him within a victory margin in the polls.

    People say he’s smart, but I don’t know – have to wait and see.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-11 16:14

    We will not win by getting Trump voters to switch. We will win by getting disengaged Democrats and young people to engage and vote.

  14. Adam 2017-08-11 16:37

    Sorry to remind us all of the bad news, but 61.5% of this state voted Trump.

    So, if Dems can’t get a portion of those folks to break from the autopilot – broken record – brainwarshing just to become slightly open minded to a Democrat, I fear 2018 will be just as lost nearly all the elections that ever came before it.

  15. jerry 2017-08-11 17:15

    Adam, that means that 38.5% did not. We can see the polls right now that show that trump has much less than that in popularity. The 11.6% change of vote is not only possible, but highly probable as the cartoon of a president continues his rants. These guys all hitched their wagons to this nutcase so let us see how this goes.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-11 17:48

    I am keenly conscious of that 61.5%, Adam. I’m going to count on Trump himself to lower that number with his own incompetence. That fruit may pick itself. We need to spend our first dollars on getting voters who’ve sat out since 2010 to give a darn again.

  17. Adam 2017-08-11 19:23

    Trump’s support will/should only go down over time. However, I think it would be unfortunate to underestimate the increase of, or enhanced, radicalization that Trump has made happen to the people of South Dakota.

    61.5% speaks a lot for who the people of South Dakota are, or have become. If a statewide Dem candidate avoids tapping into that (just hoping it will go away or disapate – pretty soon here) I’m not sure there is a way to win.

    The idea that South Dakota has been left behind while others in this country have prospered is just about the only way to tap into the “Us vs. Them” complex that MAGA has accentuated, to the Nth degree, within the majority of our peoples’ minds. It’s really tough since Dems don’t naturally play smaller-minded games like showing the voter ‘who is with us and who is against us – while the majority truly require this kind of context in order to conceive of what might be right and wrong.

  18. Adam 2017-08-11 20:41

    If only a Democrat could make the most boisterous rock-solid case for how we’ve mismanaged our state for decades (which is why our job market is the single biggest factor in breaking up families [via inspiring our kids to move away]), and how wealthy city folks in other states are getting far more than they deserve from our Federal government – at our expense – because our small government elected officials are poor at bringing home the bacon – that would really help with the crossover vote.

    And ya know what? It’s true! You don’t have to be a genius to take a look around this country, compare it to SD and then it’s pretty clear. If you’ve never set foot outside of SD, you might never know it, but I’m telling you the way it actually is.

  19. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-12 07:16

    Worse, Adam, I get the impression that when Democrats adopt the tactics you speak of, people take offense, while Republicans can continue to use those same tactics without drawing any criticism. Picking on Democrats and dragging them through the mud is fine. Jackley will say, “I’m pro-life!” and X number of voters will say, “That’s all I need to know!” Sutton will say, “I’m pro-life!” and those same voters will say, “Yeah, but…” and find some more important issue to rationalize their vote against Sutton.

  20. Linda 2017-11-19 17:25

    Adam, how would Billie help get Hillary behind bars. In his interview with the Argus Leader before the last presidential election he said he was in full support of Hillary and was so glad she that she has the same values as families in rural SD.

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-11-19 18:04

    Really, Linda? If you’re serious about the prosecution of some crime, you’re probably talking about alleged crimes that, if they weren’t distracting fiction, happened outside of South Dakota. No Governor of South Dakota will have any practical involvement in prosecuting any past Presidential candidates.

    I have little time for and no interest in refighting the last election. We have a state and a country to run. From all practical and rhetorical indications, Sutton will run it better than Noem or Jackley.

  22. grudznick 2017-11-19 18:37

    Has Mr. Sutton said who he would name as the Education Secretary and the Social Secretary yet?

  23. mike from iowa 2017-11-19 18:47

    Drumpf will go to jail long before HRC ever does. Drumpf has committed dozens of prosecutable crimes. HRC has been investigated thoroughly for 30 years and you can’t pin a single criminal charge, trial and/or conviction on her.

    Give it a rest. And don’t even bring up the Uranium 1 lies from Fake noize. Debunked a million times and still not true.

  24. Kris Q 2017-11-19 19:10

    Yesterday I donated again to the Billie Sutton campaign. He called and I was pleased to donate. My fingers are crossed but more than that, I will be helping any way I can to get him elected. Because of his pro-life stance, he is not “the” perfect candidate for me but I can no longer call myself a one issue voter. Not after this past 9 month travesty.

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