Does South Dakota Know How Ironic Its Proposed Abortion Laws Are?

Two bills working their way through the South Dakota state legislature are completely contradictory: one wants to give women more time to think hard about their choices before having an abortion, while another wants to limit the amount of information women have to consider. In their rhetoric, anti-choice legislators are pushing for a woman’s right to give informed consent; but in truth, they only want to increase burdens on women’s access to essential health care

South Dakota already has some pretty severe restrictions on access to abortion in place. Women seeking an abortion have only one clinic in the state they can go to, which they must visit twice: once to receive state mandated counseling that informs the patient that having an abortion may lead her to commit suicide (a scientifically unsubstantiated fact), and then again after waiting 72 hours to have the actual procedure. A woman must also visit a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), a non-medical organization whose explicit goal is to convince women not to have abortions, often by using more scientifically unsupported tactics like claiming abortion can lead to breast cancer.

But apparently all this is not enough for South Dakota Republicans, who now aim to further restrict women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

One bill would extend the 72-hour waiting period by excluding weekends and holidays from that count. What could possibly be the legislature’s rational basis for passing this law?  

Some critics have joked that South Dakota state legislators believe women can’t think on the weekend. Others (mis)interpret the original South Dakota omnibus bill (that passed the waiting period as well as state-scripted counseling and CPC visitation requirements) as requiring women to visit a CPC during their 72-hour waiting period. The bill specifies that a woman must visit these non-medical facilities prior to having an abortion procedure, but not necessarily after her initial consultation. Representatives of South Dakota’s many CPCs are pushing for the weekend and holiday exemption, because many are closed on Sundays. This component of the original bill in currently unenforced because the ACLU and Planned Parenthood obtained an injunction against the law in federal court.

However, another bill would allow doctors to refuse to test for, or even advise a pregnant woman to test for, fetal genetic illnesses if the doctor feels the woman would use such information to "determin[e] whether to terminate." This bill also strips women of the right to sue their doctors for misinformation regarding fetal health.  

Supporters of the original South Dakota omnibus bill claim that the compelling state interest in passing these laws is to ensure women who have abortions are giving informed consent. In fact, that’s the rhetoric used by legislators many states passing a myriad of abortion rights restrictions. From laws that force women to view and listen to invasive ultrasounds and require doctors to read biased state-written scripts to laws that require a women to make two appointments and wait for a state-mandated period of time before she can obtain her legal abortion, the right to an abortion is clearly under attack.

But how does that jive with a law that gives doctors permission to lie to women about the health of their fetus?  On the one hand, South Dakota wants to expand the amount of time women spend making reproductive choices, but on the other hand, they are pushing to limit the amount of information they are equipped with to make these decisions. 

State legislators believe in increasing women’s access to "information" only when it burdens a woman seeking an abortion by forcing her to hear medically unnecessary and sometimes even false information against her will, or by forcing her to take three or more days off work and make a lengthy trip to the state’s only clinic twice. When information might actually cause a woman and her family to obtain an abortion because of unsustainable risks to the life and health of the fetus, the state is seeking to bar access important information.

The author of the prenatal testing bill has currently moved it off the table, while the extension of the waiting period has passed the House and moved on to the Senate.  It seems as though even South Dakota’s legislators have recognized the hypocrisy of their proposed bills. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Alison Tanner

Alison is a recent graduate of the University of California - Davis, where she studied political science and women's studies and served the student body as an ASUCD Senator. She is currently a legal assistant for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Views expressed here are her own.

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