South Dakota's strict new abortion law blocked
In this April 13, 2011 photo, Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center crisis pregnancy center, shows a model of a 3-month-old fetus aboard the center's mobile pregnancy center in Sioux Falls, S.D. / AP
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - South Dakota officials must decide their next step after a federal judge said the state's newest abortion law is likely unconstitutional while preventing it from taking effect Friday.
The act would require women seeking abortions to face a three-day waiting period the nation's longest and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortion.
U.S. District Chief Judge Karen Schreier on Thursday granted Planned Parenthood's preliminary injunction, making the law invalid while it's being challenged in court.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said the state must decide whether to appeal the preliminary injunction, continue to argue the merits of the case, discuss a potential settlement or do nothing.
He said he has reached out to legislative leaders and the governor's office but can't yet say what course of action the state will take.
"At this point, I need to fully read the decision and discuss it with the attorneys involved in the case, the governor and legislative leadership," Jackley said Thursday evening.
Planned Parenthood in its lawsuit said the legislation violates a woman's constitutional right to abortion established under the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
In her written ruling Thursday, Schreier said that requiring women to attend pregnancy help centers would create an undue burden.
"Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help center the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being," she wrote. "The woman will feel degraded by the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Center Requirements, which suggest that she has made the `wrong' decision, has not really `thought' about her decision to undergo an abortion, or is `not intelligent enough' to make the decision with the advice of a physician."
Schreier let stand a small part of the law allowing pregnancy help centers to register with the state, but she suspended all the sections that require women to consult with those centers.
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. They say the bill would help make sure women are not being coerced into abortions by boyfriends or relatives.
Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center pregnancy help center and supporter of the law, said that Schreier's decision was not a surprise and her organization planned to intervene on Friday.
"We're in it for the long haul," Unruh said after the ruling.
Mimi Liu, an attorney for Planned Parenthood who argued for the injunction, said Alpha Center is not a party to the case and she wasn't worried about its plan to intervene.
"This is a case between Planned Parenthood and the state," Liu said.
Sarah Stoesz, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said the law passed by the Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard was an overreach that represents a blatant intrusion by politicians into difficult decisions that women and families sometimes need to make.
Voters rejected statewide ballot measures in 2006 and 2008 that would have banned most abortions in the state, measures that sought to provoke a court challenge of Roe v. Wade.
"The current legislature and governor are clearly out of step with the people of South Dakota," Stoesz said. "I think the judge recognized that."
Daugaard said the preliminary decision was not a surprise.
"I believe everyone agrees no matter what their stance on abortion that it's a laudable goal to reduce abortions by encouraging consideration of other alternatives," Daugaard said in a statement. "The three-day waiting period called for in HB1217 gives women time to reflect and make good choices."
Planned Parenthood, which operates South Dakota's only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, filed the lawsuit on May 27.
South Dakota's law says an abortion can only be scheduled 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, establishing the longest waiting period in the nation.
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.
Planned Parenthood says 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.
About half the states, including South Dakota, now have 24-hour waiting periods. No other state requires women to visit pregnancy crisis centers before getting abortions.
The South Dakota Legislature has passed several other measures restricting abortions in the past decade.
A 2005 law passed by the Legislature already requires that women be told that an abortion will end the life of a human being. That law remains tied up in a court appeal.
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