PIERRE, S.D. — In a forceful indictment of the way abortions are done in South Dakota, the state has passed a law requiring women to consult with a pro-life pregnancy center before getting an abortion.
Based on testimony of women who now regret their abortions, the state Legislature found that “the overwhelming majority” of women arrange their abortions without seeing a doctor or receiving any counseling about side effects.
“Such practices are contrary to the best interests of the pregnant mother and her child,” the new law declares in its preamble.
Sioux Falls Bishop Paul Swain applauds the new law. “Anything we can do to ensure a fully informed decision, with the waiting period, the chance to talk to someone who really cares about the unborn child and the mother is a great step forward,” he told the Register.
Bishop Swain sees the bill as mainly addressing the issue of coercion. “Some of the stories told by the women who came forward were heart-wrenching,” he said.
The diocese, he notes, provides emergency funding to remove any immediate economic obstacles facing pregnant women, as well as adoption services and counseling. “This is a decision that will not only affect the unborn child, but the mother for the rest of her life.”
But Planned Parenthood, which runs South Dakota’s only abortion clinic, vowed to fight the law in court. Its Minnesota, South and North Dakota CEO Sarah Stoesz called it “an egregious violation of the Constitution.”
Joining Planned Parenthood in this promise was the American Civil Liberties Union, which actually heralded its own response with the headline: “We’ll See You in Court: South Dakota’s Governor Dennis Daugaard Signs Outrageous Law Restricting Abortion Care.”
The ACLU statement continued, “We won’t stand for this blatant mistreatment of women and blatantly unconstitutional law. We’ll join Planned Parenthood in court to stop the law in its tracks so no woman is faced with these burdensome, humiliating requirements.”
Abortion supporters nationwide, including commentators for several national TV networks, expressed concern lest other states duplicate the law. ACLU senior staff counsel Brigitte Amiri said, “This is one of the most shocking laws in a disturbing national trend of attempting to deny basic medical services and humiliate women who seek abortion care.”
Half the state legislatures are currently considering bills that restrict abortions. Many mimic Nebraska’s new law that bans abortions after 20 weeks on the grounds that the unborn can feel pain by then. Unless the laws are challenged in court, the pro-abortion movement knows they will inspire imitators.
What’s So Bad — or Good — About Bill 1217
What has all these people so upset is that the new law ensures that women seeking abortion must wait 72 hours before getting an abortion. During that period they must visit a pro-life pregnancy center and be fully informed about the health risks of abortion, the development of their unborn child and alternatives to abortion such as adoption, as well as be protected from coercion. Doctors who fail to comply face a $10,000 penalty.
“The legislators heard from a number of women about coercion by boyfriends or family to get their abortions,” said Travis Benson, co-director with his wife, Kelly, of the Diocese of Sioux Falls’ marriage, family and life ministry. “They said the only so-called ‘counseling’ they got was for no more than 10 minutes when they signed their consent form and that they met the doctor for the first and last time a few minutes before the abortion, for no longer than 10 minutes.” Medical risks were never discussed.
Benson, who lobbies for the diocese with South Dakota lawmakers, said, “The new law mandates that women provide informed consent.” It requires that:
• the doctor meet the woman at least 72 hours before the abortion and before she signs a written consent form;
• the meeting be in person to rule out the “telemedical” approach Planned Parenthood is pioneering in Iowa, where abortionists and women agree on the abortion via a televised phone call;
• the doctor discusses the woman’s pre-existing medical conditions and informs her of all medical risks as reported in any peer-reviewed, English-language medical journals after 1972;
• during the 72-hour waiting period she visit a pro-life pregnancy center for a counseling session and provide the name of her abortionist. The center may talk about adoption but (presumably to avoid providing grounds for a constitutional challenge) not about religion.
Benson said many groups cooperated on creating the bill, but credited legislator Roger Hunt as its sponsor. Leslee and Allen Unruh, founders of the Alpha Pregnancy Center in Sioux Falls, were also big promoters.
Benson told the Register that South Dakota is “rural-based and family-focused” with a “solid Christian foundation” that is firmly pro-life. It has passed many pro-life laws attempting to ensure informed and free consent. But the testimony provided both for Bill 1217 and for a lawsuit involving a 2006 pro-life measure, Bill 1166, “indicated that the standard for informed consent for abortion was far below that for any other medical procedure.”
The ACLU’s Brigitte Amiri disagrees. She told the Register, “Of course the ACLU is against any kind of coercion. But we trust our physicians to make sure the decision [on any medical procedure] is free and fully informed.”
Moreover, because of previous pro-life laws, “South Dakota already has plenty of safeguards in place.” The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are particularly worried about the identity of abortionists being passed on to the pro-life staff at the pregnancy centers, which they say might lead to life-threatening assaults.
As well, they fear the pregnancy centers will make false claims about health risks, that the visits will be humiliating for women and the 72-hour wait will be “devastating” and expensive for women.
Counters Benson: “We hope and believe the law can save some lives. Once the mother learns about fetal development and about all the options such as adoption, once she has a chance to talk to someone and a chance to get over the initial fear and anxiety, there is a good chance she will change her mind.”
Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.
Pro-Life Progress Around America
Recent legislative victories for the unborn include:
Sex Selection/Race Selection Abortion Ban
Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a measure banning any gender or racial selection for abortion. The abortion of unborn female children is a practice among some Asian immigrant groups. This law gives grandparents and fathers of aborted unborn children the right to sue the abortionist and makes financing such an abortion a felony.
Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
Pioneered by Nebraska, this measure prohibits abortions of unborn children advanced enough to feel pain — at 20 weeks. In Kansas, such a bill has been passed by both chambers and is expected to get Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature.
In Idaho, a similar bill has been passed by the Senate.
In Oklahoma, the House and Senate have passed a similar measure.
Alabama’s House passed its version of the bill April 7, by a vote of 69-19.
Elimination of Abortion Funding
This measure ensures the state exchange set up under the new federal health-insurance law does not cover abortions.
In Idaho, Montana and Utah, such a bill has already been passed by both houses.
In Arkansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina, similar bills have been passed by one house.