By Michael Avok
PIERRE, South Dakota (Reuters) - South Dakota's governor signed into law on Tuesday the longest abortion waiting period in the nation at 72 hours, and opponents immediately promised a legal challenge to stop it from going into effect.
The law signed by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard also requires a woman to submit to counseling to ensure her decision to have an abortion is "voluntary, uncoerced, and informed."
The new law is one of many abortion curbs being pushed by conservative lawmakers in dozens of states this year. Other proposals include bans on late-term abortions and requirements that providers offer women sonograms of their fetuses.
"I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives," Daugaard said in a statement. "I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices."
No other U.S. state has a waiting period longer than 24 hours, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports reproductive rights. The South Dakota law also is the first in the nation to require a counseling session at a center whose mission is to encourage women to continue their pregnancies.
"While we recognize that the ACLU will probably bring this to court, the bill has been designed to protect women," said Republican Representative Roger Hunt, who sponsored the bill.
Planned Parenthood, which operates the only health center in South Dakota that provides abortions, said on Tuesday it would file a lawsuit to stop the law. Supporters of the legislation have pledged to raise private funds to finance a defense of the law, scheduled to take effect July 1.
Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said the law was an "egregious violation" of the Constitution.
CENTER OF CONTROVERSY
South Dakota has been at the center of some of the most bitter recent fights over abortion, legalized in 1973 by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
State lawmakers passed laws in 2006 and 2008 to ban most abortions unless they were necessary to save a woman's life. Voters later overturned both bans.
Lawmakers set aside another bill earlier this year that sponsors said would protect pregnant women from attack, but critics said could have legalized the killing of abortion providers in the state.
State lawmakers opposed to the latest bill said they believed it was unconstitutional and would cost South Dakota large amounts of money to defend at a time of state budget cuts.
"It makes no sense to me," Democratic House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff said of the new law. "I doubt it will meet the approval of the courts."
Hunhoff said he is "pro-life" but did not believe the law should favor "quasi-political crisis pregnancy centers" over the advice of pastors and church counselors.
The latest legislation is part of a broader effort by the National Right to Life Committee to tighten restrictions on abortion in many states by passing laws that extend waiting periods and ban most abortions after 20 weeks into pregnancy.
Last year, Nebraska adopted a ban on abortions after 20 weeks that is pinned to disputed medical research suggesting a fetus can feel pain at that stage.
The victories in elections last November by conservatives in state legislative and gubernatorial races have prompted more widespread efforts to adopt restrictions this year.
Variations on the Nebraska law have been introduced in 17 states this year, said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state polices for the Guttmacher Institute.
Oklahoma state representatives earlier in March approved a measure outlawing abortions after 20 weeks. Idaho state senators are scheduled to debate a similar bill on Wednesday was crafted by Republican legislative leaders.
(Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing By Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)