South Dakota law mandates three-day wait on abortions

Also requires pregnancy counseling

By Chet Brokaw
Associated Press / March 23, 2011

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PIERRE, S.D. — Governor Dennis Daugaard signed a law yesterday requiring women to wait three days after meeting with a doctor to have an abortion, the longest waiting period in the nation.

Abortion rights groups immediately said they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the measure, which also requires women to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions.

Daugaard, who gave no interviews after signing the bill, said in a written statement that he has conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged private money to finance the state’s legal costs.

“I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives,’’ the Republican governor said in the statement. “I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.’’

About half the states, including South Dakota, now have 24-hour waiting periods, but the state’s new law is the first requiring a three-day waiting period and the rule that women seek counseling at pregnancy help centers, said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood, which operates South Dakota’s only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said they will ask a judge to strike down the measure as unconstitutional. Kathi Di Nicola, of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, said the law would intrude on women’s right to make personal decisions about medical treatment and require women seeking abortions to receive counseling from unlicensed and unaccredited pregnancy centers that are often religiously motivated.

“It’s not going to do one thing to reduce unintended pregnancy or reduce abortion,’’ Di Nicola said. “We know women think carefully and consider all their options before making a decision like this.’’

Supporters of the measure say the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls gives women little information or counseling before they have abortions done by doctors flown in from out of state. The bill would help make sure women are not being coerced into abortions by boyfriends or relatives, they said.

“Women need to just be reminded of the fact there is a natural, legal relationship between them and their child,’’ said Representative Roger Hunt, a Republican of Brandon and the main sponsor of the law.

The law, which takes effect July 1, says an abortion can be scheduled only by a doctor who has personally met with a woman and determined she is voluntarily seeking an abortion. The procedure can’t be done until at least 72 hours after that first consultation.

Before getting an abortion, a woman also will have to consult with a pregnancy help center to get information about services available to help her give birth and keep a child. The state will publish a list of pregnancy help centers, all of which seek to persuade women to give birth.

Jan Nicolay, of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which has opposed restrictions on abortion, said the measure would invade women’s privacy by forcing them to go to crisis pregnancy centers that are sham clinics set up to dissuade women from getting abortions.

“Now, despite the fact that South Dakotans have repeatedly spoken on issues of government interference in private decisions, we will once more be pulled into a protracted legal battle that will potentially cost the state millions in tax dollars,’’ Nicolay said in a written statement.

Hunt said the state would only have to pay legal costs if it lost the lawsuit, and the money would be well spent to try to prevent the 800 or so abortions done each year in South Dakota.