South Dakota senators approve longer abortion wait

AP News
Posted: Feb 28, 2013 6:11 PM

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A measure that in some cases could extend what is already the longest abortion waiting period in the U.S. won final approval Thursday from the South Dakota Legislature.

The GOP-controlled Senate voted 24-9 to pass the bill, which was approved earlier by the House. The measure will become law if signed by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who has not commented on the bill but is a long-time opponent of abortion.

Women seeking abortions in South Dakota currently must wait three days after seeing an abortion clinic doctor before they can have the procedure. The bill would make it so that that weekends and holidays do not count in calculating the three-day waiting period.

Supporters said the change would make sure a woman has time to reflect and receive counseling before ending a pregnancy, but opponents said it would place additional restrictions on a women's right to get an abortion.

South Dakota is among states with GOP governors and Republican-controlled legislatures that have enacted tough anti-abortion measures in recent years.

The 2011 law establishing the state's three-day waiting period also requires women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers, which discourage abortions. However, that part of the law hasn't taken effect because of court challenges.

Supporters of the counseling requirement contend it will prevent women from being pressured into abortions they don't want. Opponents contend the counseling sessions would be used to pressure women out of getting abortions.

The only abortion clinic in South Dakota is in Sioux Falls, the state's largest city. The clinic is run by Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Phyllis Heineman said the measure will make sure women can get counseling without being rushed. Otherwise, the abortion clinic could have a woman meet with a doctor on Friday and schedule her abortion for Monday, meaning she would have to visit a pregnancy help center on Saturday or Sunday, when counselors might not be available, the Sioux Falls Republican said.

"It's really about making sure women have access to vital information before they make the decision that could be the most profound decision in their lives," Heineman said.

But Sen. Angie Buhl, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said an additional delay could harm some women who need abortions for serious medical problems.

However, Heineman said women facing medical emergencies are not subject to the three-day waiting period.

Planned Parenthood did not testify at any of the legislative hearings on the bill. The group issued a statement after the Senate vote, criticizing the measure and saying it caters to the weekend and holiday plans of staff at pregnancy help centers.

"This bill has absolutely nothing to do with helping women. Instead, this bill is about further delaying women from having an abortion and protecting the convenience and schedules of crisis pregnancy centers — a stunningly cynical use of the Legislature and of taxpayer dollars," Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota President Sarah Stoesz said in the statement.

Opponents also have said that extending the three-day waiting period could cause hardships for some women who live far from the clinic and have to make separate trips to Sioux Falls for the initial clinic consultation, counseling session and abortion procedure.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, a Rapid City Republican, voted against the measure because he said the counseling should be done quickly, not delayed. "I think this bill moves in the wrong direction," Tieszen said.

But Sen. David Omdahl said the delay makes sense. "This is about capital punishment, but it's an innocent life," the Sioux Falls Republican said.


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