South Dakota Abortion Laws: Longest Mandatory Waiting Times in U.S. Introduced

If you are trying to terminate your pregnancy in South Dakota, your life just got a whole lot tougher. On Thursday, the South Dakota Senate passed a bill that extends the abortion waiting time to what is the longest delay in the country. Current state law already requires a waiting period of three days, and mandatory counseling from nonmedical pro-life advocates. The new bill, which is waiting to be signed into law next week by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, would exclude weekends and holidays from being included in the calculation of the 72 hour waiting period.

Now any South Dakotan woman seeking an abortion must drive across the state to the only non-emergency abortion center statewide in the city of Sioux Falls, and wait from three to six days before the operation can occur. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice it is difficult to explain the logical rational for this delay. Advocates of the law claim that it gives women adequate time to think about their decision. However, if she took off work, drove across the state, raised the money for the procedure, and is willing to go through the whole ordeal alone (as is most often the case) she has most likely already made up her mind. The delay certainly serves no medical purpose. 

A woman should be as well-informed as possible before she has an abortion. But to hope that during the mandatory three to six day waiting period this woman is going to have a revelation is bizarre, and quite frankly, insults the intelligence of women. Women choosing to have an abortion do so with the full weight of what that decision means resting on their conscience. Forty years after Roe vs. Wade was passed, we continue to enact legislation that operates under the premise that women who seek abortions do so on a whim, as a sort of backup birth control method.

Studies have shown that the rate of abortion decreases as access to contraception increases. Furthermore, women who were denied abortions are three times more likely to fall into poverty as those who were able to safely have the procedure. Given these statistics, it is important to understand how bills like the one just passed actively dissuade low-income women from their constitutional rights and economically penalize them. Few working class women have the luxury to take off work for a full week in order to get what is already a relatively expensive procedure.

Supporters of the bill claim that this will be helping women, but how does wasting women’s time help anyone? Sarah Stoesz, Planned Parenthood President of South Dakota, said, "This bill has absolutely nothing to do with helping women. Instead, this bill is about further delaying women from having an abortion and protecting the convenience and schedules of crisis pregnancy centers a stunningly cynical use of the Legislature and of taxpayer dollars."

While South Dakota may have created the longest waiting period, they are certainly not alone. According to the Guttmacher Institute 35 states require that women receive counseling before an abortion, and 26 state also require a waiting period of 24 hours or more between counseling and the procedure. Currently, the Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood fly in doctors from Minnesota every week to perform abortions, since no local doctors are willing to work there after the center was set on fire in 1999. 

If women do not have the ability to decide when and how they start a family, they will continue to be economically disenfranchised. It is perfectly fine to be pro-life. Yet to force women into having children that they can’t economically support just on the basis of religious or political principle is unjust and cruel. This bill just makes an already extremely difficult decision exceedingly harder.