Restricting Choice: South Dakota Law Makes Women's Access to Reproductive Care Increasingly Difficult

By Bathija, Sandhya | Church & State, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Restricting Choice: South Dakota Law Makes Women's Access to Reproductive Care Increasingly Difficult


Bathija, Sandhya, Church & State


Alisha Sedor is deeply worried about the impact of a new South Dakota law on women's health care and reproductive choice.

"There is no physician that lives in South Dakota that will perform elective abortion procedures," said Sedor, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota. "The doctors all come in from out of state just one day a week. And if you live in the western part of the state, you have to drive five to six hours to get to the only abortion center in the state. This law just makes it even more inaccessible."

In March, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a measure that requires women to consult with a "crisis pregnancy center" (CPC) and wait at least 72 hours before going forward with a pregnancy termination.

According to Sedor and other reproductive justice and civil liberties groups, the law is the equivalent of an all-out state abortion ban. Already, access to the procedure was extremely limited within the state, she said.

That was the likely intent of those pushing the legislation. The bill's primary sponsor was Rep. Roger Hunt (R-Brandon), a man who had jammed through two state abortion bans in 2006 and 2008. Though the legislature passed these measures, they failed miserably when put to a public vote.

Despite knowing that South Dakotans don't want draconian limits on abortion, Hunt introduced H.B. 1217 anyway. Backed by national and local Religious Right groups such as Concerned Women for America, the Family Heritage Alliance and the South Dakota Family Policy Council (a Focus on the Family affiliate)--as well as the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls--Hunt succeeded in steamrolling the probably unconstitutional measure into law.

The legislator also received the unfettered support of South Dakota CPCs, unregulated organizations that are religiously based and rabidly anti-choice. Yet, beginning in July, they will have access to every woman seeking an abortion in South Dakota.

"These centers can say whatever they want," said Sedor. "They have no requirements not to lie to women, and they do not have to ensure a woman's confidentiality is kept. Many are religiously based and try to impose their religious views on these women."

The South Dakota anti-choice measure is just one of hundreds being pushed by Religious Right organizations and their sectarian allies across the country. Thanks to their lobbying efforts, not only has the new Congress sought to defund Planned Parenthood and push ineffective abstinence-only measures, state legislators have also waged war on women's reproductive rights.

In Ohio, the "heartbeat bill" was introduced in the House of Representatives with 50 co-sponsors--more than half the chamber. The measure, if passed, would ensure that once a fetal heartbeat is detected, a woman cannot have an abortion, with the exception of medical emergencies.

The Ohio House Health Committee, prior to voting, heard "expert testimony" from a nine-week-old fetus in the womb through an ultrasound projector. Supporters of the bill included a range of Religious Right groups, including TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, Family First PAC, Citizens for Community Values and the National Right to Life Committee.

In Florida, the House approved a package of anti-choice legislation that includes a measure requiring women to pay for an ultrasound before receiving an abortion, a ban on the use of public funds for elective abortions and a provision that would ensure fees received from the sale of the "Choose Life" license plates go to the Choose Life Foundation, which runs CPCs throughout the state.

Several states have also introduced measures that define personhood as beginning at conception, which South Dakota and Missouri already have on the books. States that have considered these measures this session include Iowa, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. …

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