South Dakota Abortion Bill Forces Women to Seek Counseling at Anti-Choice Centers

While the South Dakota state legislature announced today that it will shelve a radical bill that would open the door to legalizing the murder of doctors who perform abortions, the state is still weighing other legislation that would significantly curtail reproductive rights. NARAL Pro-Choice America says that South Dakota already has some of the most draconian laws on the books that constrain women’s access to reproductive health services, including biased counseling and 24 hour waiting periods, even though the state’s only clinic which offers abortion coverage has to fly in a doctor once a week to see patients. While voters twice rejected a comprehensive ban on abortion in the 2006 and 2008 referendums, the Republican-controlled legislature continues to create new burdens for women.

A measure passed by the State House Judiciary Committee would require women seeking an abortion to first visit a “pregnancy help center,” also known as a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), where they must inform women of “the risk factors” and “complications associated with abortion,” and “have a private interview to discuss her circumstances that may subject her decision to coercion.”

The legislation, introduced by Republican State Rep. Roger Hunt, says that such centers can be either “secular or faith based” and the bill only approves a center that does not “perform abortions and is not affiliated with any physician or entity that performs abortions, and does not now refer pregnant mothers for abortions, and has not referred any pregnant mother for abortions for the three-year period.”

A 2006 Congressional report found that such pregnancy centers frequently employ misleading and fallacious information to link abortion to breast cancer, infertility and other fertility problems, and severe psychological problems such as an increased chance of suicide. “The vast majority of the federally funded pregnancy resource centers contacted during the investigation provided information about the risks of abortion that was false or misleading,” according to the investigation, “In many cases, this information was grossly inaccurate or distorted.”

The National Abortion Federation also notes that such centers are mostly staffed by volunteers whose “main qualifications are a commitment to Christianity and anti-choice beliefs,” rather than medical professionals, and “many CPCs are connected with religious organizations, but few disclose that fact in their advertising.” And a report by The Daily Beast looked into the propaganda tools and medically-unsound practices commonplace at such pregnancy centers.

But if State Rep. Hurt gets his way, South Dakota may force women looking to terminate their pregnancy to first gain the approval of the staff of such biased centers, on top of an existing 24 hour waiting period. Since a doctor that provides abortion procedures is only available in the entire state just once a week, this bill would gravely endanger the already-limited access women have to reproductive services.