Federal Judge Says South Dakota Doctors Should Now Start Assessing Patients For Coercion Or Mental Health Problems


A federal judge has ruled that South Dakota can begin enforcing part of its onerous anti-choice bill, previously known as H.B. 1217 but then renamed H.B. 1254 after minor tweaks were made to the law. The bill enforced a 72-hour waiting period, a mandatory session with a crisis pregnancy center worker, and a mental health evaluation by the abortion provider all prior to a termination. Now, one of those three measures is going into effect.

Via The Associated Press:

U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier says the state can enforce provisions requiring that doctors who perform abortions must first assess women to determine if they have been coerced into getting abortions or are at risk of suffering psychological problems if they have an abortion.

There is still no ruling on the other part of the law, requiring women to wait three days between the point in which she meets with a doctor for an initial assessment, or that forces her to visit a religious-based crisis pregnancy center for a consultation before having a termination.

Jen Aulwes, Media Relations Director for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota said via statement:

The portions of the law that have yet to be ruled on would still require women in South Dakota to face the longest delay in the nation and women would still be required to go to biased, nonmedical “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” that only exist to dissuade women who seek abortion care from a physician.

We remain deeply concerned that politicians in South Dakota continue to insert themselves into women’s personal medical decisions. It is important that a woman has accurate information about all her options so that she can make a decision for herself.  Health information should never be given with the intent of coercing, shaming or judging a woman.

Forcing a doctor to provide assessments regarding a woman’s mental state as she seeks out a termination is little more than an attempt by anti-choice politicians to take one of two tacks in their efforts to shut down providers. First, a doctor is held responsible for potential lawsuits should any woman (or, in the case of this bill, any family member associated with the patient) later decide that she regretted the decision or suffers emotional issues that may or may not be related to the procedure itself.

The law could also open doctors up to additional scrutiny and potential loss of medical privileges, as we recently saw in Kansas, as anti-choice activists there sought to use medical records to attempt to show that a doctor’s patient evaluations weren’t what the (anti-choice) medical board considered to be medical best practices.

At the very least, the law is meant set new precedents for potential liability for doctors in order to intimidate them out of offering elective terminations.

As NARAL South Dakota Executive Director Alisha Sedor said when the bill changed in February:

HB 1254 would also expand the enjoined 2011 law to include new biased-counseling mandates on providers, requiring physicians to probe women about deeply personal topics, including their religious beliefs.

All individuals seeking health-care services should receive comprehensive, unbiased, medically and factually accurate information from the healthcare provider of their choice,” said Sedor, “However, this legislation is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate, shame, and coerce women against accessing safe, legal abortion.”

Shame women, intimidate doctors. Sounds like South Dakota’s anti-choice politicians are getting exactly what they hoped for.

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