updated 2/22/2006 8:26:38 PM ET 2006-02-23T01:26:38

Legislation meant to prompt a national legal battle targeting Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, was approved Wednesday by the South Dakota Senate, moving the bill a step closer to final passage.

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The measure, which would ban nearly all abortions in the state, now returns to the House, which passed a different version earlier. The House must decide whether to accept changes made by the Senate, which passed its version 23-12.

“It is the time for the South Dakota Legislature to deal with this issue and protect the lives and rights of unborn children,” said Democratic Sen. Julie Bartling, the bill’s main sponsor.

The bill, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison, would make it a felony for doctors or others to perform abortions.

Bartling and other supporters noted that the recent appointment of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito make the Supreme Court more likely to consider overturning Roe v. Wade.

President Bush, a Republican and an abortion foe, might also have a chance to appoint a third justice in the next few years, they said.

Opponents argued that the measure was too extreme because it would allow abortions only to save the lives of pregnant women. They said abortion should at least be allowed in cases involving rape, incest and a threat to a woman’s health.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the only clinic that provides abortions in South Dakota, pledged to challenge the measure in court if it wins final approval from the Legislature and is signed by Gov. Mike Rounds.

Rounds, a Republican and a longtime abortion opponent, has said he would “look favorably” on the abortion ban if it would “save life.”

Other state legislatures are considering similar measures. But South Dakota is the only state so far to pass such an abortion ban, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization in New York and Washington, D.C.

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