Court Blocks Anti-Choice Legislation in South Dakota

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Court Blocks Anti-Choice Legislation in South Dakota

Jodi Jacobson

A federal court this evening blocked implementation of South Dakota H.B. 1217, the law passed earlier this year that would require a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 72 hours after first meeting her doctor before having the procedure, and to visit a "crisis pregnancy center" for a lecture based on ideology, not medical or scientific evidence.

A federal court this evening blocked implementation of South Dakota H.B. 1217, the law passed earlier this year that would require a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 72 hours after first meeting her doctor before having the procedure, the longest and most extreme mandatory delay in the country.  During this “waiting period,” women would be required to visit a so-called crisis pregnancy center.  These centers, which are by definition anti-choice, are not only opposed to women making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, they also oppose contraception and provide medically inaccurate information based on religious ideology, not science. 

The law was to have taken effect July 1.

South Dakota residents rejected an abortion ban by referendum in 2008. Since that time, zealots in the South Dakota legislature have been engaged in trying to pass the same laws voters earlier overwhelmingly rejected.

Planned Parenthood called the court decision “a decisive victory for Planned Parenthood and the women and families of South Dakota.”

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“This law represents a blatant intrusion by politicians into difficult decisions women and families sometimes need to make,” said Sarah Stoesz, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

“We trust women and families in South Dakota to know and do what is best for them, without being coerced by the government. And we stand with them in our efforts to overturn this outrageous law.”

In granting temporary relief from the law, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Karen Schreier found that Planned Parenthood is likely to prevail on its challenge to each of the requirements of the law, including the 72-hour mandatory delay and the “pregnancy help center” requirement.

Judge Schreier cut right to the chase in underscoring the real intentions of this law.

In finding that the “pregnancy help center” requirement is likely unconstitutional, the Court said:  “Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help center the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being. The woman will feel degraded by the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Center requirements, which suggest that she has made the ‘wrong’ decision, has not really ‘thought’ about her decision to undergo an abortion, or is ‘not intelligent enough’ to make the decision with the advice of a physician.  Furthermore, these women are forced into a hostile environment.”

In addition to humiliation, this law would have had the intended effect of making even early abortion much more expensive, especially since South Dakota has few abortion providers and many women in need of abortion must already take time off work, arrange for child care, drive long distances and make other economic sacrifices to obtain abortion care. 

Mimi Liu, an attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America who argued the case in court, said:

“This law takes restricting access to abortion to a whole new level. If implemented, it would have the practical effect of requiring many of our patients to drive the equivalent of halfway across the country to access an abortion. On top of that, it would force our patients to discuss their most private medical information with an unlicensed, non-medical group that is opposed to abortion.  We are happy and relieved for our patients that the court’s decision today means they will not have to suffer through these outrageous and demeaning requirements.”

Liu was joined in court by attorneys from the law firm Dorsey & Whitney and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“The law is an insult to the women of South Dakota,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, “and the court has rightly found that the government has no business egregiously inserting itself into what should be a personal matter between a woman and her doctor.”

Referring to referenda and other efforts to restrict the ability of individual women to make their own choices, Stoesz said: “Time after time, South Dakota voters have sent the clear message to their lawmakers that politicians should not interfere with personal medical decisions. And time after time, politicians have ignored the voters. It’s time that someone brought a stop to these costly, intrusive, burdensome and divisive measures. Women and families know their circumstances best, and they need to be able to make personal medical decisions, often very difficult ones, without the government intruding.”

Other women’s rights organizations, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota also applauded the decision.