South Dakota GOP Proposes Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban

South Dakota Republicans last week introduced legislation that would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization with very few exceptions.

South Dakota Republicans last week introduced legislation that would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization with very few exceptions. Shutterstock

South Dakota Republicans last week commemorated the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade by introducing a 20-week abortion ban. The state senate gave a first read of SB 72 on Friday.

The bill seeks to ban abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, unless there is a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including a psychological or emotional condition” to the pregnant person.

Sen. Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre) is SB 72’s primary sponsor, and all 13 co-sponsors are Republicans. Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Sioux Falls) sponsored the corresponding house bill, along with 36 Republican co-sponsors.

South Dakota currently adheres to the viability laws as outlined in the Roe v. Wade decision. In the 1973 decision, the court defined viable to mean capable of prolonged life outside the womb, and accepted the conventional medical opinion that a fetus becomes viable at the beginning of the third trimester, typically between the 24th and 28th week.

South Dakota has found other ways to restrict abortion rights. It was one of 15 states to receive a failing grade for its reproductive health record on the Population Institute’s 2014 report card, which measured effectiveness, prevention, affordability, and access. Since 2011, South Dakota’s GOP has forced a 72-hour waiting period and a crisis pregnancy center visit on women seeking abortion care.

There is one abortion clinic operating in the state.

Several states have passed similar unconstitutional bans based on the dubious suggestion that the fetus can feel pain 20 weeks post-fertilization. The medical community, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, has disputed that claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to revive an even more restrictive law in North Dakota, which would have banned abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, letting stand a federal appeals court decision striking it as unconstitutional.

If South Dakota’s 20-week ban passes, doctors would be required to attempt to save the fetus in abortions attempted at 20 weeks and later. Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said in a statement that these types of laws take deeply personal decisions away from women and their medical providers.

“In states that have passed laws like this, some women and their families have been put into heartbreaking and tragic situations—needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but unable to do so,” Stoesz said. “Decisions about pregnancy are not for state politicians to make and the latest polls show that the overwhelming majority of voters say this is the wrong issue for state legislators to be spending time on. This bill is about politics, not medicine.”

The South Dakota GOP holds a 58-12 majority in the house and a 27-8 stranglehold in the state senate.