March 23, 2011 — South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill (HB 1217) that will require the longest waiting period in the nation before women can receive abortion services and also will mandate that women seeking abortion services receive counseling at a crisis pregnancy center, the AP/Miami Herald reports.
About half of U.S. states require a 24-hour waiting period before women can receive abortion care, but South Dakota is the first to implement a 72-hour waiting period, which could require several visits to the state's only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls. The law, which will take effect July 1, requires women to first meet with a doctor to schedule the procedure. The doctor will determine whether the woman is voluntarily seeking an abortion without coercion. Women cannot receive abortion care until three days after that consultation.
Women seeking abortion services also must visit crisis pregnancy centers, which aim to dissuade women from having the procedure. A list of such centers will be published by the state (Brokaw, AP/Miami Herald, 3/22). The law states that centers that are religiously affiliated and secular can counsel women under the law as long as the centers' main objective is to "educate, counsel and otherwise assist women to help them maintain their relationship with their unborn children."
The law makes an exception in cases of emergency, but not for cases of rape or incest (Sulzberger, New York Times, 3/22).
Bill sponsor Rep. Roger Hunt (R) has said the law is "designed to protect women," while Daugaard said, "I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices" (Avok, Reuters, 3/22).
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said they will file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law (AP/Miami Herald, 3/22). Planned Parenthood representatives said its staff already carefully screen women seeking abortion care for signs of coercion and have turned away women who appear to be making the decision under pressure from others.
Sarah Stoesz -- president of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota -- said employees at crisis pregnancy centers have been known to provide inaccurate information about the alleged physical and emotional risks of abortion, show women graphic photographs and quote scripture to influence women to continue their pregnancies. "They're not licensed, they're not regulated, they're not accredited and they're openly ideological," she said (New York Times, 3/22). Other opponents worry that the law could violate federal requirements to keep medical information private.
Opponents of the law also have criticized the cost of a potential court challenge. Officials have estimated that it will cost the state between $1.7 million and $4.5 million to defend the law. Hunt said the state would be required to pay legal fees only if it lost the court challenge. He added that private donations have been made to defend the law (AP/Miami Herald, 3/22).