Temporary Stoppage of South Dakota Abortions Points to Abortion’s Risks

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Temporary Stoppage of South Dakota Abortions Points to Abortion’s Risks

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by The Elliot Institute
July 31, 2008

LifeNews.com Note: TheElliot Institute is a widely respected leader in research and analysis of medical, mental health and other complications resulting from abortions.

Planned Parenthood of South Dakota is refusing to do abortions.

Why? Because a federal court has upheld a new law that would require them to disclose to women the risk factors of abortion. These are statistically proven risk factors that reliably identify which women are at highest risk of post-abortion psychological problems, including depression and suicidal behavior.

That’s not the way the story is being told in the national media, however. Following Planned Parenthood’s shutdown, the mainstream media has adopted PP’s spin on the story, focusing on how this “radical” law requires doctors to give women a written statement of the following:

"that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being;"

"that the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota;"

"that by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated."(1)

The Constitutional Issue

As will be discussed below, these three statements are unlikely to help many women avoid abortion. But this language may be very important to the next round of Supreme Court rulings on abortion.

In fact, these provisions in the law are carefully designed claims of fact intended to force the federal courts to finally address unanswered legal issues. Pro-life lawyers hope that by litigating the three points raised in this statement, the Supreme Court can be led to affirm that the constitutional right of relationship between a woman and her unborn child (already defined in regard to adoption law) extends to abortion law. In addition, while previous courts have avoided the question of when human life begins, this statute would ask the Court to affirm the fact that an unborn child is a "unique, living human being." Such a finding would almost certainly require a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

So, the South Dakota law is poised to raise important constitutional questions. But as an informed consent statute, these three requirements will have little, if any, impact on whether or not women have an abortion.

The Practical Issues

Research shows that most women believe the child they are carrying is a human being. Many believe abortion is morally wrong. But most also feel that they must undergo an abortion due to their circumstances or because of pressure, coercion and, in some cases, violence or threats of violence from others.

Specifically, recent research has found that 64 percent of American women having abortions report they did so because of pressure to abort from others: boyfriends, husbands, parents, employers, or counselors. Most also reported that they were not given adequate counseling or time to make a decision, with many reporting that they received no counseling at all.(2) And many women have a desire to keep their child if their circumstances were better or with meaningful support from those around them.

In short, for the vast majority of women, abortion isn’t seen as a “choice.” It is not even a “preference.” For most, it is seen as the only thing they can do, or what they "must do."

Often, what they "must do" is chiefly defined by the expectations and demands of other people whose lives would also be affected by the birth of the baby. As one young girl put it, her firm refusal to consider an abortion collapsed when her mother uttered just four words: "Where will you live?"

Faced with such a dilemma, would hearing a statement about her constitutional right to a relationship with her unborn child save a 14-year-old girl from an unwanted abortion? Would it move her mother to be more supportive of her desire to keep her baby? Not likely.

The Door Closing Provision

So, why has Planned Parenthood shut down (at least temporarily) its abortion business in South Dakota? Surely they want to spin their closing around this theme of their high-minded refusal to tell women about philosophical, legal or religious views with which Planned Parenthood disagrees.

But think about how easy it would be for abortion businesses to comply with this requirement while also undermining it. The law’s mandate could easily be met by giving women a statement reprinting the state’s view of when human life and relationships begin exactly as worded in the law. And at the same time, the abortionist would be free to tell her that in his opinion the required notice is propaganda. He could even go further and exercise his own free speech rights with slick brochures, videos, or even forty page legal briefs disputing the required disclosure. Or, he could just give her the statement without comment and rightly expect that it would make no difference since she already feels she has no other choice.

In short, there’s no reason this disclosure would compel abortion businesses to close shop. So there must be another reason.

That reason may well be the less-discussed requirement that abortion businesses must also disclose the “statistically significant risk factors” for negative reactions to abortion, including those associated with depression and suicidal behavior.

Some of these risk factors are not surprising. For example, women who are pressured or forced into unwanted abortions are at higher risk of negative reactions. So are those who have moral beliefs against abortion but feel they have no other choice, those with strong maternal desires, and those with a prior history of depression or abuse.

These are just a few of over 40 such statistically-validated risk factors that have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. Yes, over 40 risk factors!

Abortion clinics are in a bind. It’s one thing for a woman to ignore three lines about the personhood of her unborn baby and a right to relationship with him or her when she already feels compelled to give up that relationship. It’s another thing for her to ignore a list of more than 40 risk factors that indicate the potential devastating and life-long impact of undergoing a procedure that she probably doesn’t want in the first place. Even the coercive mother who asks, “Where will you live?” may begin to think, “Should I expose my daughter to all of this?”

Also, “statistically significant risk factors” has a very exact meaning in medical texts. If a risk factor is statistically significant, it belongs on the list. Deliberately leaving any off would expose the clinic to liability for violating the law. On the other hand, if an abortion clinic is later sued for doing an abortion on a woman with any of these factors, the plaintiff’s attorney could use the clinic’s written list of risk factors as an admission on the part of the clinic that they were aware of the risks.

Another Example

In the past, the abortion industry has been shielded from any liability for failing to screen women or to disclose the risk factors for emotional complications associated with abortion. This is due to legal provisions that prevent recovery of damages for emotional injuries unless the woman also suffers concurrent physical injuries.

But the South Dakota statute may now expose abortion businesses to a liability risk they have never had before. Indeed, whenever the issue of liability for psychological risk factors is raised, it stirs up virulent opposition.

For example, in the fall of 2007, the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance in Missouri introduced a petition initiative for a measure that would define failing to screen abortion patients for coercion and other statistically validated risk factors as medical negligence.

Unlike the South Dakota law, the Missouri proposal didn’t simply require that women be informed of the risk factors, as if women should be responsible for conducting their own medical exams. Instead, it allowed women to hold abortion businesses liable for negligence if the doctor (or another qualified person at the clinic) didn’t actively screen for those risk factors, at least by reviewing a checklist of risk factors completed by the woman.

In short, the Missouri proposal actually dares to propose that abortion providers should be actively involved in assessing a woman’s risk factors so they can give her informed medical advice about the relative risks and benefits of abortion.

One might be excused for thinking this was a reasonable position. After all, even Roe v. Wade notes that “the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician.”

So, while one might also expect Planned Parenthood to merely object to the proposal as unnecessary and argue that they are already doing such screening, surely they wouldn’t deny the principle. But in fact, instead of offering assurances that they are doing adequate pre-abortion screening, Planned Parenthood filed suit to delay the referendum, describing it as a "ban" on most abortions.

A “ban”? If most abortions are as safe and beneficial as Planned Parenthood has been claiming for more than three decades, how could screening for risk factors to identify what PP claims are “rare” cases in which high risk women may need more counseling, constitute a ban?

But looking to South Dakota, where Planned Parenthood has closed shop at least temporarily rather than disclose to women a list of risk factors and complications associated with abortion, it now seems clear that the abortion business has concluded that they will only provide abortions in states where they are protected from proper liability for screening and counseling.


So consider these two facts: (1) Planned Parenthood of Missouri calls exposure to liability for pre-abortion screening for known risk factors a ban, and (2) Planned Parenthood of South Dakota closes its doors rather than accepting liability for informing women about statistically proven risk factors so they can do their own risk-benefit analyses.

What does this tell us?

In short, it tells us that Planned Parenthood would rather close its doors than face any liability for making even a minimal effort to avoid doing abortions that are unwanted, unsafe, or unnecessary. Perhaps it is because unwanted, unsafe, and unnecessary abortions provide the bulk of their business.


1. https://legis.state.sd.us/statutes/DisplayStatute.aspx?Statute=34-23A-10.1&Type=Statute

2. VM Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10(10): SR5-16, 2004.


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