UPDATE, March 9, 2:31 p.m.: Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) on Wednesday signed the legislation into law. Local reports suggest it won’t make a difference because the bill amends a state law being challenged in court.
Anti-choice politicians in South Dakota are attacking the state’s last abortion clinic to score political points at taxpayer expense, according to reproductive rights advocates.
At the center of the controversy is state-directed informed consent counseling required before a person can receive abortion care—counseling currently offered at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Three dozen South Dakota Republican lawmakers have signed onto legislation calling for a “mandatory pregnancy help center consultation” prior to the common medical procedure. A state Senate committee advanced the bill on Friday, and it could come for a floor vote Tuesday, according to the Rapid City Journal.
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South Dakota lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2011 that included a 72-hour forced waiting period, one of the longest in the United States. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union sued, and a federal judge blocked the provision pertaining to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), or fake clinics.
Political observers believe the new GOP bill, which targets a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls—the state’s sole abortion clinic—amounts to an election year stunt while the court case is ongoing. Planned Parenthood is mentioned in the bill 14 times, and the state-mandated counseling it performs is described as hostile and “unreliable.”
“The vast majority of this bill has no legal effect and is nothing more than political grandstanding,” Heather Smith, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said in a statement. “South Dakota politicians are not only attacking Planned Parenthood, but also the women seeking their vital services.”
South Dakota law bans abortion after 20 weeks gestation, restricts insurance coverage of abortion care, requires parental notification, and would outlaw abortion if Roe v Wade were overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Under the bill, counselors at fake clinics would discuss “the physical or psychological risks to a woman posed by an abortion.” Patients would be told a fetus is “a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
A 2016 study by Rutgers University of informed consent material in nearly two dozen states found medical inaccuracies in nearly one-third of state-mandated counseling materials. The authors found nearly a quarter of the information in South Dakota’s informed consent pamphlet was medically inaccurate.
In enjoining provisions of the 2011 law, a federal judge warned that the court must decide whether the fake clinic counseling requirement might “constitute a substantial obstacle that will deter women from exercising their constitutional right to obtain an abortion.”
“This is all about forcing women to visit biased centers whose purpose is to provide ideological and non-medical information in an attempt to interfere in a woman’s decision to have an abortion,” Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, told Rewire.
However, the Republican backers of the new legislation argue that fake clinics are best equipped to counsel those seeking abortion care. One of the chief architects of the bill, attorney Harold Cassidy, said Planned Parenthood has “no expertise to help the woman make that decision. They’re there to give abortions, that’s it,” as SDPB radio reported.
The head of the Planned Parenthood affiliate said it adheres to state laws, and a twice-yearly audit by the South Dakota Department of Public Health has consistently found the clinic in compliance.
“This bill attempts to make an extreme law—one that does not exist anywhere else in the country, and has already been declared likely unconstitutional—even more extreme,” said Planned Parenthood CEO Stoesz. “This will only add to the current costs of litigation for South Dakota.”