South Dakota Places New Restrictions on Abortion

Today, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed his state’s latest anti-abortion bill (the Legislature recently tabled a bill that could classify killing an abortion provider as "justifiable homicide). Anti-abortion laws are generally insulting to women’s intelligence, but this law is especially so: It increases the mandatory waiting period to obtain an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours and requires women to have a counseling session at a pregnancy health center -- all restrictions premised on the idea that women don't know what they're getting into and need help making up their feeble minds.

As of 2008, there were only two abortion providers in the entire state of South Dakota, and 76 percent of women lived in counties without an abortion provider. In South Dakota, seeking out an abortion often involves significant travel and planning. If a South Dakota woman seeks an abortion, she’s already jumped over plenty of hurdles, and the 72-hour waiting period is just another one.

Furthermore, the counseling offered to women from crisis pregnancy centers, which have a reputation of dissuading women from obtaining abortions, amounts to a government-mandated shaming session. Indeed, according to the new law, the centers must “help [women] maintain their relationship with their unborn children.” Of course, if the state really wanted to make sure women knew all the options available to them, they could simply rely on the abortion provider to provide that medical advice. 

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have already begun to prepare for a court challenge. If the courts uphold legal precedent, which forbids restrictions on abortion in the first trimester that present an “undue burden” on the pregnant woman, then South Dakota will simply have to add to the over $500,000 in court-imposed penalties it's had to pay Planned Parenthood in the last 15 years.

Update: It looks like the law also puts patients' privacy in jeopardy. The bill only addresses privacy once, saying: 

Other than forwarding such documents to the abortion physician, no information obtained by the pregnancy help center from the pregnant mother may be released, without the written signed consent of the pregnant mother or unless the release is in accordance with federal, state, or local law.

According to Brigitte Amiri, an attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, the law does not go far enough to make sure the crisis pregnancy centers (CPC), which aren't covered by federal HIPAA privacy rules because they aren't actually medical entities, keep women's personal information private. The law doesn't establish consequences for release of information, says Amiri. "There are also – typically when dealing with private medical records – questions like where are they kept, like in a locked drawer, and there's nothing in the law about that either." Amiri, who will be working on the court challenge to the law, says it raises concerns over constitutional privacy rights and will be one thing they look into when putting together their case.

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