Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) had an opportunity last month to stand up for women and the First Amendment and vote against Senator Al Novstrup’s 9R-3/Aberdeen) Senate Bill 110, an odious attack on Planned Parenthood and minor extension of the baloney that the Alpha Center and other forced fake counseling centers can tell women to browbeat them into not aborting their pregnancies.
Senator Billie Sutton did not avail himself of that opportunity. On February 6 he joined the Republican majority in voting for SB 110, which has since been signed by the Governor. Nine days later, Senator Sutton joined the Republican majority (and fellow Dems Frerichs and Nesiba) in supporting the toothless but telling Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, which declares that “pre-born” children have an “inalienable” right to live from conception and declares Roe v. Wade an “assault” on that right. This vote is consistent with Sutton’s vote in 2013 for a resolution that called for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
With the 2018 Session over, I can thus update my table of Sutton’s votes on abortion-related bills and resolutions during his four terms in the Senate. As I did last summer, I bold the measures that strike me as more important in determining where a candidate stands on women’s right to access abortion services.
On twelve notable abortion bills and resolutions, Sutton voted to invade women’s privacy and make women’s decisions for them ten times.
|Bill||Title||Pro-Choice Vote||Sutton Vote||Notes|
|2018 SB 110||increase the penalty for performing an abortion of an unborn child capable of feeling pain.||nay||aye||accuses Planned Parenthood of breaking the law by telling patients that “politicians” require them to recite mandatory anti-abortion propaganda|
|2018 SCR 3||Committing the Legislature and urging the Governor, the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General to secure the blessings of life and liberty for South Dakota’s posterity.||nay||aye||calls Roe v. Wade an “assault” on the right to life of every “pre-born” child and says that right begins at conception|
|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…|
83% of Sutton’s votes on this issue have enacted or called for the further erosion of women’s rights.
John Tsitrian recognizes that the South Dakota Democratic establishment has mostly surrendered to the Republican narrative (subtitle: The Handmaid’s Tale) on abortion. Undermining women’s rights may play well with Republican fence-sitters, but Tsitrian says it could keep the party establishment from capturing enthusiasm from potential new members and voters:
…I haven’t found South Dakota-specific numbers, but on a national scale, Pew Research has found that young adults (18-39), by a 2-to-1 margin believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The next older group (30-49) agrees by a margin of about 3-to-2.
If these results are close to how South Dakota’s younger voters feel, Sutton probably has a problem. Question is, will this attitude be expressed with enough intensity to make a difference at the polls? Maybe, maybe not. My experience tells me that among a fair number of passionately committed young voters, it will be. I doubt that a large contingent of Dems would reject him outright, but believe that many will respond to him with a collective “meh.” Given the party registration gap between Democrats and Republicans (30% vs. 46%), on the enthusiasm front Sutton needs more, much more [John Tsitrian, “Can a Pro-Life Democrat Win in South Dakota? Billie Sutton Wants to Know,” The Constant Commoner, 2018.03.16].
Sutton has lost the vote of Antoinette Miller, who is running to recapture Paula Hawks’s old House seat in District 9:
That should make for a fun convention. Remind me to sit at Miller’s table, so I can get a clear view of the dirty looks she gets.
No Miller Democrat has risen to challenge Sutton to a primary, and with just a week and a day left until petitions are due, we’re at Kevin-Weiland-crunch time. Absent a primary challenger, we Democrats can choose between a Governor Sutton who might come around and a Governor Jackley or Governor Noem who has probably already pre-ordered the MAGA wimples.
I’m thus willing to tolerate the foul stench of Sutton’s anti-woman votes as an expression of his fealty to the District 21 voters who sent him to Pierre, on the condition that he apply the same principle to his Governorship. The voters who would send him to Pierre as Governor are the same voters who have twice rejected right-wing abortion bans. The women who vote for him overwhelmingly reject the propaganda masquerading as “informed consent” that Sutton has voted to force on women seeking abortions.
Senator Sutton, you’re effectively done representing District 21. You’re now seeking to represent this state. And this state has consistently rejected broader restrictions on abortion, contrary to your voting record. It’s time to come around. It’s time to support the Democratic Party’s platform plank that declares, “Every woman has the right to make her own medical decisions.”
It’s a lot to ask a guy to admit that, on a particular issue, he’s been wrong 83% of the time. But it’s a lot to ask candidates like Miller and voters in general to support a guy who’s been wrong on an important issue 83% of the time. Help us over that hump, Senator Sutton.