Ignorance and Abortion; Advocates Target 'Informed Consent' Law

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 27, 2006 | Go to article overview

Ignorance and Abortion; Advocates Target 'Informed Consent' Law


Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On Nov. 7, a South Dakota law prohibiting nearly all abortions in that state was clearly defeated; but still in the federal courts is another South Dakota statute requiring the "informed consent" of the woman before the abortion. Now blocked in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, that law confronts judges and the rest of us with the core question: When do we become human beings?

The law would require that doctors tell women intent on having abortions that the procedure would "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."

Arguing against this at the 8th Circuit in St. Louis, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, Timothy Branson, said the language of this South Dakota law "injects an ideological component into the discussion of the unsettled question of when human life begins. "This is the first case," he emphasized, "that really shows where the line is."

Yes, it is.

As Adam Liptak reported in the Oct. 31 New York Times, a panel of the Court of Appeals agreed with Planned Parenthood and blocked enforcement of the law. Many states do have "informed consent" laws by which doctors must provide factual information about the procedure to women and its health risks. These laws have been upheld by other federal appeals courts.

What, then, makes the South Dakota "informed consent" law different? Before this case (Planned Parenthood v. Rounds) that "really shows where the line is" reached the 8th Circuit, Karen E. Scheier, a federal district court judge in South Dakota had stopped enforcement of the law with a preliminary injunction back in June 2005, in which she ruled:

"Unlike the truthful, non-misleading medical and legal information doctors were required to disclose" (in the Supreme Court's 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision), "the South Dakota statute requires abortion doctors to enunciate the state's viewpoint on an unsettled medical, philosophical, theological and scientific issue that is, whether a fetus is a human being."

Agreeing with her, the New York Times noted, 8th Circuit Judge Diana Murphy, writing for the 2-to-1 majority, declared: "Governmentally compelled expression is particularly problematic when a speaker is required by the state to impart a political or ideological message contrary to the individual's own views."

Moreover, said Judge Murphy invoking Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's widely effective phrase to permit abortion the South Dakota law creates an "undue burden" on the (continually embattled) constitutional right to an abortion. …

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