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Court Finds South Dakota's Extreme Abortion Law Degrades and Humiliates Women

Andrew Beck,
Senior Staff Attorney, Reproductive Freedom Project,
Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 1, 2011

In a case brought by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, a federal district court judge in South Dakota yesterday blocked the enforcement of the state’s extreme abortion law, which was scheduled to take effect today.

The extreme law is just that: extreme. As we’ve blogged before here and here, this law requires women to wait 72 hours between the first counseling session with the doctor and the abortion; it also requires women to first visit “crisis pregnancy centers,” entities that are notorious for providing false and misleading information; and requires doctors to tell the woman of any possible risk factor published in medical and psychological journals since 1972.

These new restrictions are on top of the already long list of abortion restrictions in South Dakota, and come from a state that has only one abortion provider — Planned Parenthood. In South Dakota, where many women would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach the only clinic that provides abortion services in the state, the burden of making two separate trips, or of staying for three days at that clinic in Sioux Falls, is onerous in the extreme.

Fortunately, the court agreed with us that the state has pushed the envelope too far. As to the crisis pregnancy center requirement, the court said:

Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help center the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being. The woman will feel degraded by [this requirement], which suggests that she has made the “wrong” decision, had not really “thought” about her decision to undergo an abortion, or is “not intelligent enough” to make the decision with the advice of a physician.

On the 72-hour waiting period, the court found that the waiting period will be much longer – likely 7 to 30 days for every woman because of the travel time involved. This actual waiting period puts the mother at greater risk: the more time that lapses before the abortion, the greater chance there is for complications.

And on the “risk factors” requirement, the court found that doctors would be forced to tell women a myriad of false and misleading information, such as the discredited idea that abortion causes breast cancer.

We are thankful for this victory. It means that women can continue to receive crucial health care from South Dakota’s only abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. It is also a victory for reasonableness. This year, we have seen the most vicious attacks on reproductive rights in recent history, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood in several states, an attempt to close all clinics in Kansas, and absolute bans on abortion that almost passed in Louisiana, North Dakota, and Alabama. The court yesterday drew a line in the sand, we will fight to ensure that others to do the same.

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