Tuesday, November 07, 2006

South Dakotans reject tough abortion ban

By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer

South Dakotans rejected a toughest-in-the-nation law that would have banned virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest — defeating one of the most high-profile state measures facing voters Tuesday.

The outcome was a blow to conservatives, who also had cause for worry in Arizona. An amendment to ban gay marriage was trailing there with returns nearly complete; it would be the first defeat for such a measure after prevailing in more than two dozen states in recent years.

Five states approved increases in their minimum wage, while Arizona passed four measures targeting illegal immigrants, including one making English the state's official language. In Michigan, voters took a swipe at affirmative action, deciding that race and gender should not be factors in deciding who gets into public universities or who gets hired for government work.

In Missouri, returns were too close to call on a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research. It had been a factor in the crucial Senate race there, with incumbent Republican Jim Talent opposing the measure and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill supporting it.

Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states, but none had riveted political activists across the country like the South Dakota abortion measure. Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have allowed abortion only to save a pregnant woman's life.

Lawmakers had hoped the ban would be challenged in court, provoking litigation that might eventually lead to a U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Jan Nicolay, a leader of the state's anti-ban campaign, said voters viewed the measure as too intrusive.

"We believe South Dakotans can make these decisions themselves," she said. "They don't have to have somebody telling them what that decision needs to be."

Eight states had ban-gay-marriage amendments on their ballots: Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin approved them, while results were pending in Arizona, Colorado and South Dakota. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.

Colorado voters had an extra option — a measure that would grant domestic-partnership rights to same-sex couples.

Conservatives had hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans. Democrats looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hike passed in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada; results were pending in Colorado.

In Missouri, a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research was a factor in the crucial Senate race there; incumbent Republican Jim Talent opposed the measure, while Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill supported it.

In Ohio and Arizona, anti-smoking activists won showdowns with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Voters in each state approved a tough ban on smoking in public places and rejected rival, Reynolds-backed measures that would have exempted bars.

Nevada and Colorado voters rejected measures that would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and older. A winning measure in Rhode Island will restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole.

Elsewhere, land use was a hot issue, part of a backlash against a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London, Conn., to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development.

Seven states approved eminent-domain measures barring the government from taking private property for a private use. Arizona's winning measure went a step further, requiring state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lowered the value of their property.

South Dakota voters defeated a measure that would have made their state the first to strip immunity from judges, exposing them to the possibility of lawsuits. In Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, voters defeated measures that would cap increases in state spending.

Arizona voters were deciding on the most ballot measures — 19 — including four that were approved out of frustration over the influx of illegal immigrants. One measure makes English the state's official language; another expands the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants.

Voters weren't keen about another, more quirky Arizona measure: They defeated a proposal that would have awarded $1 million to a randomly selected voter in each general election.

Pennsylvania voters gave the state the go-ahead to borrow $20 million so that nearly 33,000 veterans in the state who participated in the Persian Gulf War could collect one-time payments up to $525.

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