South Dakota Judge Halts 72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period Law

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 30, 2011   |   7:00PM   |   Pierre, SD

A judge in South Dakota issued a temporary injunction to halt enforcement of a new pro-life law in South Dakota that was scheduled to take effect tomorrow had it not been for a Planned Parenthood lawsuit.

Chief Judge Karen Schreier issued a written ruling today voiding the longest abortion waiting period in the country — 72 hours. The measure also helps women find abortion alternatives. The ruling prevents the law from going into effect while the lawsuit continues.

She indicated the abortion business is likely to win its case in court and provided several ways in which she believed the law is unconstitutional — making it appear that she will likely issue a ruling striking down the law once she holds oral hearings on the lawsuit. Schreier claims the law violates a woman’s 1st and 14th amendment rights.

The law in question, which takes effect July 1, would require women considering an abortion to visit a crisis pregnancy center before going to an abortion business to get counseling on abortion’s alternatives as well as the risks associated with having one. The idea behind the bill — which goes further than legislation in other states — is to get women tangible pregnancy help and support that they won’t normally find at an abortion center. The counseling would not require any out of pocket expense on behalf of the women considering an abortion.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the bill into law in March, saying, “I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives. I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.”

But Planned Parenthood on Monday asked a federal judge to stop it and issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from protecting women and unborn children while its lawsuit moves forward. Chief Judge Karen Schreier heard arguments from the abortion business and state officials and said she would issue a ruling soon.

According to an AP report, Mimi Liu, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, which operates the only abortion business in the state (located in Sioux Falls), argued the new law violates the so-called right to abortion under the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

‘‘It will force women out of state, and prevent others all together from accessing an abortion,’’ Liu said.

Deputy Attorney General John Guhin argued that Planned Parenthood hasn’t provided any evidence that allowing women a chance to wait for an abortion while they consider alternatives goes against the high court decision.

‘‘What South Dakota is doing is perfectly acceptable,’’ Guhin said, according to AP.

Patricia DeVaney, an assistant attorney general, also argued for the state and said the law is ‘‘a regulation of conduct, not speech.” and said it does not require women to give out any personal information. But Judge Schreier challenged that and pointed out that the law requires the woman considering an abortion to contact a pregnancy center

‘‘Then why does it use the word ‘must’ and ‘shall’?’’ she asked.

AP also indicates Schreier also challenged the law’s definition of coercion, which says exists ‘‘if the pregnant mother has a desire to carry her unborn child and give birth, but is induced, influenced, or persuaded to submit to an abortion by another person or persons against her desire.” She said that was different than the way in which the law required women to wait or visit a pregnancy center.

About half of the states across the country have a waiting period but typically of 24 hours in length. No other state requires women to visit a pregnancy center beforehand but many give women information about such centers — which provide tangible help for pregnant women.

Rep. Roger Hunt, a Republican from Brandon who sponsored the bill, said he’s been contacted by many women who made it clear they did not get adequate information or counseling about abortion before getting their abortion. Women have told him of how they have been pressured into getting abortions but that the Planned Parenthood abortion center does nothing to help them resist it — just selling them an abortion.

“This is a matter of life. This is a matter of taking life,” Hunt said, according to an AP report. “This is about information and blocking coercion. These are all good and noble objectives.”

The Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls strongly supported the bill, saying it would provide the necessary “informed consent that must be given to mothers considering an abortion so that they are protected and not coerced.”

“This additional protection will also help to insure that mothers are as fully aware as possible of the implications and ramifications of the grave decision to terminate the most sacred gift of life,” it said.

The bill also requires the abortion practitioner to verify that there is no pressure or coercion on the mother when she makes the decision to have an abortion.

The Judiciary Committee voted 9-4 for the bill. Several women who testified before the panel in its hearing on the bill said the state’s lone abortion center, run by Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls, does not provide adequate pre-abortion counseling.

Brittany Weston, of Yankton, became pregnant at age 22 and her partner insisted she have an abortion because he did not want to pay child support for raising the baby. Before the abortion, Weston only spoke with staff at Planned Parenthood and she said she wanted the abortion clinic to provide her with help on how to deal with the situation — instead, it did an abortion and took the life of her child.

“If this bill you’re discussing today was law at that time, I would have my child right now and he would be about 5 years old,” Weston said. “They took something from me I’ll never get back — my child and my soul.”

Kimberly Martinez, executive director of the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, told legislators her pregnancy center has trained experts ready to assist pregnant women with options and alternatives.