By Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, and Robert Doody, Executive Director, ACLU of South Dakota
Recently, an extreme bill sailed through the South Dakota legislature, which places unprecedented restrictions on access to abortion care. This bill 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 long list of abortion restrictions in South Dakota, and they also come from a state that tried to ban abortion outright twice in the last few years. These new attempts to restrict abortion are outrageous attempts to deny women basic health care services, and to shame and humiliate them. Enough is enough.
Nowhere else in the country have we seen these extreme measures. For example, although the Supreme Court has allowed states to force women to wait 24 hours between counseling and the abortion, never has a state enacted a law that requires her to wait 72 hours. And nowhere else in the country has a state mandated that a woman first visit a “crisis pregnancy center” or “CPC.” CPCs often lack licensed medical personnel, and are designed solely to “encourage” a woman to carry to term and keep her child. The federal government has documented that CPCs often provide women false and misleading information in order to achieve their goals. Furthermore, these new restrictions require physicians to tell their patients about risk factors from all journals that date back to 1972, nevermind that the information in those journals may be outdated, misleading, and irrelevant.
So what does this mean for women in South Dakota? Have you looked at the geography of South Dakota? It’s a big state. And there are very few doctors who provide abortions. And the way the law reads, a woman needs to see her doctor twice before the abortion procedure. Imagine you lived at the top of the state, far north of Sioux Falls. You’d first have to get to the physician in Sioux Falls, be counseled by the doctor, and listen to a litany of “risk factors” some of which may have nothing to do with you or may be so outdated that they aren’t even accurate. And then what? Drive all the way back home, only to turn around and make that same drive a couple of days later (assuming you have a car), only to do this all a total of three times? And what about taking time off from work? And child care? And on top of it all, in between the counseling session and the abortion, you have to visit a CPC and listen to speeches about the horrors of abortion, and receive misinformation such as abortion causes breast cancer and infertility.
And what if you had a wanted pregnancy, but tragically discovered that the pregnancy was doomed? Or what if you were pregnant as a result of rape or incest? All of these new requirements would apply to you too. This is because the legislature thinks it knows what is best for women. The South Dakota legislature specifically said that this bill is necessary “to protect the pregnant mother’s interest in her relationship with her child and her health by passing remedial legislation.” Wow. It’s like we’ve gone back in time about a century when women were treated like children, unable to make decisions for themselves.
These outrageous and extreme measures push the envelope to the detriment of women’s access to basic health care, and they are really designed to make them feel horrible for making a decision that may in fact be the best one for themselves and their families.
Of course, South Dakota is not alone in attempting to deny reproductive health care to women, and to humiliate them and shame them — are you watching what is going on in Congress and across the country? My colleagues have blogged about these issues here and here and here. This South Dakota bill is one attack on women in a long line of them. Enough is enough. These assaults on women’s health care must be stopped.