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Ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion-rights advocates have stridently defended abortion at any time, for any reason. Or, for that matter, with any method, including dilation and extraction—more commonly known as partial-birth abortion. The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a ban on this gruesome procedure.

Strategic pro-life groups such as Americans United for Life have taken advantage of Roe's over-reaching extremism. They have made headway by advocating popular measures—parental notification and informed consent, for example—that shape public opinion and chip away at the decision. Twice vetoed by President Clinton and signed by President Bush in 2003, bans on partial-birth abortion have played a key role in this strategy. Achievements in Mississippi offer a compelling argument. By passing 15 pro-life laws in 14 years, the state government has watched its abortion rate drop by 60 percent.

South Dakota became staunchly pro-life in part by following this incremental strategy. Demand for abortions has declined so much that only one abortion clinic remains open. And that provider must fly in doctors from Minnesota, as no in-state physicians will perform them.

However, a different form of overreach, this time by pro-lifers, threatens these gains. Last year, pro-life South Dakota legislators, sensing that public sentiment was on their side, pushed through a strict abortion ban, which denied exceptions for rape and incest. It included an exception to save the mother's life.

Pro-abortion activists hammered away at the ban for not allowing abortion in cases of incest and rape. Planned Parenthood, which operates the only remaining abortion clinic in South Dakota, would have opposed any measure to restrict abortion. ...

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