Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill Tuesday requiring women seeking abortions to go through additional steps before having the procedure – but opponents will file a lawsuit to prevent the law from taking effect.
The bill, House Bill 1217, requires women to wait 72 hours between contacting an abortion provider and having an abortion. It also requires them to seek counseling with crisis pregnancy centers, groups that consult “with women for the purpose of helping them keep their relationship with their unborn children,” before undergoing the procedure.
Daugaard said the bill will help prevent women from being coerced by relatives or the fetus’s father into having an abortion.
“I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives,” Daugaard said. “I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.”
But opponents said the law is unconstitutional and plan to file a lawsuit in federal court before July 1, when HB1217 would become effective.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of South Dakota are all planning on filing the lawsuit and seeking a preliminary injunction barring HB1217 from taking effect.
“Since the governor has signed it we’ll file suit as quickly as possible,” said Kathi Di Nicola, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Di Nicola said the bill was “heavily flawed.”
The 72-hour waiting period, Di Nicola said, is “the longest in the nation in a state where it’s already very difficult to access abortion care.
“It also forces women to receive counseling from a crisis pregnancy center. The centers are unlicensed, unaccredited and unregulated,” she said. “The mission that’s at the heart of the crisis pregnancy centers is to dissuade women from having abortions. So this is state-mandated coercion.”
The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which opposed anti-abortion rights ballot referendums in 2006 and 2008, hasn’t decided whether it will join the Planned Parenthood lawsuit or whether it will try to refer HB1217 to a popular vote.
“The last thing women in South Dakota need is more difficulty in obtaining health services,” Robert Doody, director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement. “This shameful law not only interferes with a woman’s private medical decision but also presents a danger to those who provide abortion care to women. Women need reliable medical care and advice, not government mandates that push a political agenda.”
But supporters of the legislation dismissed Planned Parenthood’s criticism of the law.
“I totally disagree, and we’ll see them in court,” said Leslee Unruh, executive director of the anti-abortion rights Alpha Center in Sioux Falls.
Unruh said the bill is a victory for women.
“I am thrilled. I think the governor heard the cries of the women who testified,” she said. “Women are going to be safer in South Dakota as a result.”
One of those women who testified, Vixie Miller of Rapid City, said she was pressured into having an abortion in 1979 by her husband.
“If this bill had been in effect, I would have my child with me today,” Miller said.
Miller has previously been a volunteer with crisis pregnancy centers, which would provide the mandatory counseling HB1217 calls for.
“When I worked as a counselor at the pregnancy center, I can easily say 95 percent of the girls I personally counseled were being pressured, either by a boyfriend or a parent or even a grandparent to do it,” she said.
But Dr. Marvin Buehner, a Rapid City physician who has been an outspoken critic of anti-abortion laws, said coercion doesn’t happen like abortion opponents say it does.
“This is an incredibly anti-abortion climate,” Buehner said. “The intimidation is incredible. When patients come to my office – not necessarily with medical issues but are thinking about terminating their pregnancy – if they’re feeling pressure from family or friends, it’s quite the opposite direction. It’s pressure not to have an abortion.”
Chris Hopke, president of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, said HB1217 was a response to abortion provider Planned Parenthood’s “inability to screen themselves for coercion.”
“Planned Parenthood is on trial with this bill,” Hopke said. “This bill is all about protecting women and making sure that when women go through this process they are educated, they do have information, and they can make voluntary consent and the doctor is involved in the whole process.”
Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, took a similar tack.
“This seeks to ensure that women considering abortions are fully informed, not coerced, that the doctor performing the abortion has done a full and complete assessment just like any other doctor would do for any other procedure,” he said. “That’s not what Planned Parenthood does – not even close.”
Buehner disputed the comparison between the pre-abortion assessment and assessments for other medical procedures.
“I see patients every day who have procedures scheduled the next day,” Buehner said. “To have a state-mandated waiting period, there’s no such thing in any other sphere of medicine.”
Unruh said anti-abortion-rights activists are raising money to pay the legal costs the state will incur defending the law.
The state has a special fund, the Life Protection Subfund, which can accept private donations to pay the state’s legal costs for defending abortion laws – costs that could run more than $250,000 if the state loses and has to pay the plaintiff’s costs.
Hunt said he “faith in the people of South Dakota” that “there’s money that is going to be available.”
Unruh expects to raise all necessary funds.
“We’ve done it in the past, and we’ll do it again,” Unruh said.
South Dakota is currently litigating another law restricting abortion, a 2005 law requiring abortion providers to read women seeking abortion statements about the procedure. Planned Parenthood argued that the law imposed an unreasonable burden on women and provided with misleading information, charges supporters of the law reject. Planned Parenthood v. Mike Rounds was argued in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in January. A decision is pending.