Federal Court Blocks South Dakota Law Restricting Access to Abortion

June 30, 2011 8:15 pm

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ACLU and Planned Parenthood Win Victory in Effort to Block Unconstitutional Policy

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a decisive victory for South Dakota women and families, a federal court today blocked a state law from going into effect that would have gone further than any in the country in restricting access to abortion and intruding on women’s personal medical decisions. As written, the law would have required a woman who is seeking an abortion to wait at least 72 hours after first meeting with her doctor, the longest and most extreme mandatory delay in the country. In the interim, the woman would be required to seek “counseling” at a so-called “pregnancy help center” whose mandate is to dissuade her from her decision to seek an abortion. The law was to have taken effect July 1.

“This law represents a blatant intrusion by politicians into difficult decisions women and families sometimes need to make,” said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. “We trust women and families in South Dakota to know and do what is best for them, without being coerced by the government. And we stand with them in our efforts to overturn this outrageous law.”

In granting temporary relief from the law, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Karen Schreier found that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are likely to prevail in their challenge to each of the requirements of the law, including the 72-hour mandatory delay and the “pregnancy help center” requirement.

In finding that the “pregnancy help center” requirement is likely unconstitutional, 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 the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Center requirements, which suggest that she has made the ‘wrong’ decision, has 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. Furthermore, these women are forced into a hostile environment.”

“This law takes restricting access to abortion to a whole new level,” said Mimi Liu, an attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America who argued the case in court. “If implemented, it would have the practical effect of requiring many of our patients to drive the equivalent of halfway across the country to access an abortion. On top of that, it would force our patients to discuss their most private medical information with an unlicensed, non-medical group that is opposed to abortion. We are happy and relieved for our patients that the court’s decision today means they will not have to suffer through these outrageous and demeaning requirements.”

“The law is an insult to the women of South Dakota and the court has rightly found that the government has no business egregiously inserting itself into what should be a personal matter between a woman and her doctor,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

“Time after time, South Dakota voters have sent the clear message to their lawmakers that politicians should not interfere with personal medical decisions,” said Stoesz. “And time after time, politicians have ignored the voters. It’s time that someone brought a stop to these costly, intrusive, burdensome and divisive measures. Women and families know their circumstances best, and they need to be able to make personal medical decisions, often very difficult ones, without the government intruding.”

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU were joined in court by attorneys from the law firm Dorsey & Whitney.

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