South Dakota Spends $170,000 Defending Anti-Choice Law


The State of South Dakota has spent $170,000 in taxpayer money since 2011 defending a single anti-choice law, according to new figures from the state attorney general obtained by RH Reality Check.

The amount is based on the number of hours that staff attorneys in South Dakota’s Office of the Attorney General have spent working on HB 1217, a bill linked to controversial lawyer Harold Cassidy.

That bill contains numerous provisions that have been slammed by doctors and reproductive rights advocates. It forces women seeking abortions to wait 72 hours between their first consultation with a doctor, and when the doctor may perform the abortion. It also obliges doctors to “inform” the woman that abortion is linked to suicide, even though the medical consensus is that such claims are false.

Possibly the most controversial provision, however, is the requirement for women to receive “counseling” from an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center as a condition of accessing abortion.

The latter requirement remains the subject of litigation in Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota v. Daugaard. The case has taken more than 2,000 hours of work by lawyers in the state’s attorney general’s office to date, according to Sara Rabern, a spokesperson for the attorney general.

The office of the attorney general calculates the hourly billing rate for their staff attorneys at $84, a rate—though not close to what private attorneys typically charge—that “is figured to be similar to court appointed council in criminal cases set by our Supreme Court,” Rabern wrote in an email to RH Reality Check.

However, Rabern said the “fair market value” of the state attorneys’ services would be closer to $200 per hour, based on what “attorneys in private practice with the same level of experience would charge.” That would bring the expense so far to $406,000.

“It all depends on how you characterize what the state has ‘spent’ on the litigation: the true ‘fair market value’ of the services, or the ‘discounted’ rate we would use to actually bill an agency for our services,” Rabern wrote.

South Dakota is not the only state facing ballooning costs from defending anti-choice laws. Texas, Kansas, and Idaho have each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation relating to restrictive abortion laws, some of which were drafted by groups that are usually affiliated with stridently “free market” groups, which usually oppose government spending.

The tab for defending South Dakota’s HB 1217 could balloon. Already this year, spending has occurred at a far higher rate than in the previous three years.

And when the attorney general was asked in 2011 to estimate how much it could cost to defend HB 1217, the figures ranged from $1.75 million to $4.15 million, according to a document obtained by RH Reality Check. The higher figure contains a $1.75 million contingency to cover Planned Parenthood’s costs, in the event that Planned Parenthood wins the litigation.

Should the case wind its way to higher courts of appeal, South Dakotans will face ever higher costs. For the moment, the litigation remains in early stages, with the parties still requesting documents from each other. No trial date has yet been set.

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  • j238

    Does the state have any choice? Public officials are required to uphold their laws, even the bad ones.

    • tpel_91

      Seems to me a number of states have decided recently to no longer pursue court cases that went against the laws they put in place. Of course we can also blame the legislators and the governor who put that law in place for the expenses. Both being GOP-majority and GOP.

    • Lisa Kazmier

      Yeah, they have a choice not to try to pass legislation that is going to be challenged in court as unConstitutional.

    • MarkSebree

      What I would like to see is the legislators and governors who pass bills that will obviously be challenged and are likely to be unconstitutional and thus overturned be responsible for the court costs, not the state or the agency or school forced to enact that law and then challenged on it. If passing bad laws will hurt the legislators in the pocketbook, they may be more cautious about pass such bad, narrow-minded, harmful laws.

      Note that this would only apply to the legislators that actually voted for the law. The ones that voted against it, which is always a matter of public record, would not owe anything. And to be fair, there should be a “statute of limitations, so to speak, based on when the case is file after the law is passed for how far out a legislator would owe anything. Perhaps 10 years after the law is enacted, or when the legislator is no longer serving in a public capacity, which ever comes second. If the legislator dies before the case is settled, then his heirs would NOT be obligated to pay.

    • cjvg

      The state has a choice in whether they will spend money defending a law in court.
      It is not mandatory to defend laws when challenged.

      Also these laws are passed without voter input because every time the state has abortion restrictions voted on, they are soundly defeated by the voters.

      Obviously these abortion restrictions are not what the public wants (as the votes bear out every time). There is no legit reason for these lawmakers, who supposedly work for the public, attempting to then pass these laws by bypassing the o so inconvenient voting process

  • Renee Goodwin

    Making it mandatory for a women to go listen to the lies at one of those pregnancy “help” centers is beyond unconstitutional, how can a law force me to go listen to some christian lies? I would see it as the state forcing someone’s religious beliefs on me

    • Göran Lund

      Not surprising, since GOPers and anti choicers are the american talibans.