SD Senate panel OKs abortion-law modificationsPIERRE (AP) — South Dakota's year-old abortion law remains tied up in a court challenge, but a state Senate committee endorsed a bill Wednesday that would change some of its counseling requirements for women seeking an abortion.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota's year-old abortion law remains tied up in a court challenge, but a state Senate committee endorsed a bill Wednesday that would change some of its counseling requirements for women seeking an abortion.
The bill leaves intact the current law's requirements that women seeking abortions wait 72 hours and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions. But it changes provisions dealing with a woman's first consultation with a doctor at an abortion clinic and requires that counselors at the pregnancy help centers be licensed.
The Senate Health Committee voted 6-1 to approve the bill, which has already passed in the House. The measure next goes to the full Senate.
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, said he does not know whether the measure will help the state defend the law against a court challenge. Planned Parenthood, which operates South Dakota's only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, argues the 2011 law is an unconstitutional burden on a woman's right to an abortion. A federal judge has suspended most of the law from taking effect until the court challenge is decided.
"You never know really what's going to happen in litigation," Hunt told the Senate Committee.
However, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has said the bill might have an effect on the federal court lawsuit.
"It has the potential to assist in some of the concerns expressed by the federal court in the 2011 litigation," Jackley said recently.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier suspended most provisions of the law from taking effect after ruling that Planned Parenthood had demonstrated that the law was likely unconstitutional.
"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," the judge wrote.
The bill that's in the Senate would specify what factors an abortion clinic doctor would consider when determining if a woman is at risk of developing mental health problems if she has an abortion. The measure also would require that the counseling sessions at pregnancy help centers be conducted by counselors, doctors, nurses and others who are licensed in their fields. That counseling is supposed to determine if a woman has been coerced into seeking an abortion.
Hunt said the bill merely cleans up language in last year's law and clarifies the Legislature's intent in passing the law.
Supporters of the bill said women seeking abortions need a chance to talk to counselors who can help them overcome pressure by parents, boyfriends or husbands who are urging them to get abortions. A counselor can explain alternatives, such as keeping the child or giving it up for adoption, they said.
But Sen. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, said he opposes both the law and the proposed changes because it interferes with a woman's right to make her own decisions. He also said the Legislature should not be modifying the abortion law until the court challenge is decided.
Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, said the bill would make sure women get better information before they seek abortions.
"I don't think it's taking away the decision-making. It's actually enhancing that," Hunhoff said.
The law passed last year required a doctor at an abortion clinic to discuss with a woman any factors that medical journals have identified that could cause a woman to have psychological problems after having an abortion. The bill lists specific risk factors, such as coercion, a woman's age, her previous mental health problems and her religious views.