Exactly How Long Do CPCs Need for Counseling? In South Dakota, a Reeaally Long Time

When legislatures write laws to enforce other laws that the courts have blocked, you know they really just want to ban abortion any way they can.

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The South Dakota House voted 56 to 13 to pass a new law mandating that women wait at least three full days after meeting with a doctor before obtaining an abortion, not including weekends and holidays. Should it become law, the bill will force many seeing abortions to wait as much as a week to terminate a pregnancy, and could shutter the only public abortion clinic in the state.

Debating the bill, proponents continued to explain that it was necessary in order to allow crisis pregnancy centers to have time to “counsel” women before an abortion, despite the fact that the law requiring such counseling is still under an injunction. Bill sponsor John Hansen stated during debate that “the law needs to be changed in case the counseling requirement takes effect. Counselors in pregnancy counseling centers might not be available on weekends and holidays, so the law should make sure centers have time to meet with women considering abortion,” according to the Associated Press.

According to Rep. Hansen there are approximately 14 abortions performed in the state per week, and “a pregnancy help center needs time to conduct those 14 counseling sessions each week.” As far as how much time, well, that was conveniently left out of a bill that has no issues mandating every other aspect of abortion care. At this point, three crisis pregnancy center networks are registered with the state as facilities to provide “pre-abortion counseling.” Using three centers to counsel for potential “coercion” prior to terminating a pregnancy, one begins to wonder exactly how long each center believes they need in order to accomplish their evaluation.

Even assuming a Friday initial appointment with the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls, the only clinic in the state, a patient would have either the rest of Friday, most of Monday or both in order to see a crisis pregnancy center for her “coercion” appointment. Are CPCs claiming that screening an average of five women would require more time than that? And if that truly is a concern, why was this need for more time not addressed in the original bill, which was, after all, drafted by lawmakers working directly with CPCs?

“Supporters of this bill have argued that if the injunction on the forced visit to a crisis pregnancy center is lifted, it would be an inconvenience for crisis pregnancy centers to stay open on weekends or holidays to accommodate women trying to comply with the requirements,” said Alisha Sedor, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota via email to Rewire. “That they would use such a callous argument underscores how little concern they have for women’s health and well-being. This is another obvious attempt to create a roadblock for access,  to coerce women out of seeking services entirely by making access de facto impossible for many.”

That the constitutionality of the counseling requirement is doubtful is already being addressed by the courts, which blocked the “coercion screening” mandate in the first place. For the state to then create a new law to enforce a bill that was already blocked as a likely undue burden shows that their goal is really to end abortion access with any means available.