In an ongoing effort to push legislation to reduce abortion rates — in part by restricting women’s access to the procedure — South Dakota’s Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, signed into law on Tuesday the most stringent such bill yet.
The new law requires women who seek abortions to first undergo a consultation at a “pregnancy help center,” centers whose counselors oppose abortion. The law also requires women to wait three days after meeting with an abortion provider before she can receive the procedure. The waiting period is the longest in the nation. (More on Time.com: To Slash the Abortion Rate, Dole Out Birth-Control Pills a Year at a Time)
In recent years, the South Dakota legislature has passed several laws designed to reduce abortions — though the state’s abortion rates are among the lowest in the country — some of which have been overturned by the courts and in referendums by voters.
“Gov. Daugaard is ignoring the citizens of South Dakota, who have twice expressed that they do not want the government to intrude on their private medical decisions,” said Alisha Sedor, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, in a statement. “It is outrageous for politicians to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship in such an egregious way. Forcing women, against their will, to consult with an unlicensed, anti-choice, individual about their pregnancies flies in the face of patient privacy.” (More on Time.com: A ‘Perfect Storm’ for New Anti-Abortion Laws)
While opponents of abortion applauded the measure, many supporters of abortion rights questioned the logic of mandating abortion counseling by people with no qualifications or license to dispense medical advice.
The centers themselves — which are also known as crisis pregnancy centers, and have been increasing in number nationwide — are not regulated by any medical authority and are known for disseminating misinformation about the medical and psychological risks of abortion.
According to the new law, pregnancy help center staff may control who should be allowed in the room during counseling sessions (such as spouses, parents and religious counselors), independent of the woman’s wishes. The idea is to reduce coercion from other parties.
Supporters of the new law shrug off the opposition, noting that if women are bent on getting an abortion, they’re still able to get one. “What are they so afraid of?” Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center, a crisis pregnancy center in Sioux Falls, S. Dak., countered in the New York Times. “That women might change their minds?” (More on Time.com: NYC to Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Stop Misleading Pregnant Women)
South Dakota’s abortion laws were already among the most restrictive in the country, requiring, for instance, that patients be informed that the procedure “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being.” The Times reported:
The nearby Planned Parenthood clinic is the sole provider of nonemergency abortions in the state. It has no local doctors willing to perform them, so doctors fly in each week from Minnesota.
Patients often have to drive hours across the state to seek an abortion, so under the new law they would need to make several trips or find a place to stay for the three-day waiting period.
In February, the South Dakota legislature also proposed a bill to expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include the defense against any person who tries to harm a woman’s unborn child. Although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, clarified that the bill applied only to attempts to resist illegal acts against pregnant women, such as assault — not legal acts like abortion — many people interpreted the proposal as an effort to target abortion providers. (More on Time.com: The ‘Unbortion:’ Chicago Hospital Persuades Women to Halt Abortions)
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union said they will challenge the law passed on Tuesday, which is set to go in effect on July 1.