South Dakota's abortion debate took a bizarre twist Wednesday when the younger brother of gubernatorial candidate Jack Billion showed up at a news conference to oppose his sibling's position.
Democrat Jack Billion called the stunt an example of how divisive the issue is and how some people have little tolerance for other views.
"He has his right. He has the right to believe the way he wants," the candidate said. "I don't know that he has the right to tell me what I have to believe, and that's the whole gist of this law."
Jack Billion, a retired Sioux Falls physician, said he called the news conference to clarify his position on South Dakota's newly passed abortion ban, which is up for a public vote in November.
Afterward, Stephen Billion, a Sioux Falls internal medicine physician, called reporters into a separate room of the Old Courthouse Museum to read a prepared statement supporting the ban and Gov. Mike Rounds.
"I support this courageous act by our S.D. Legislature and Governor Rounds, because it recognizes the scientific and moral truth about human life in the womb," Stephen Billion read.
Issue faces a fall ballot
The South Dakota Legislature passed the ban to prompt a court fight aimed at overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the nation.
Instead of filing a court challenge, opponents filed petition signatures to put it on the November ballot for a statewide public vote.
The debate has thrust South Dakota into the national spotlight, and abortion has become the central issue in many statewide races.
Jack Billion called the ban a "rigid and unforgiving law" that leaves women and families no option.
He said South Dakota already has some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws and the new measure's lack of exceptions for rape or incest "further victimizes the women of South Dakota."
Jack Billion said when a woman is facing an illness, the decision to continue her pregnancy should be left to the woman, her family and her doctor.
"This abortion ban shuts the door on the last option for a woman facing serious health care issues while pregnant," the candidate said.
Stephen Billion refused to elaborate on his statement but said he believes it's his civic responsibility to speak out in favor of the law, "and today was an opportunity."
Jack Billion said he respects his brother's opinion and his ability to make decisions for himself. "I don't know if necessarily he should be making decisions for the whole state," he said.