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Senate takes action on pregnancy centers

PIERRE -- Three years after legislators required a 72-hour waiting period and mandatory counseling at pregnancy help centers for women seeking abortions in South Dakota, state lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to strengthening pieces of the controversial law.

Senators voted 26-9 for a measure that requires each center, starting in 2015, to annually submit to the state Department of Health a list of its licensed personnel who may provide counseling.

The department then can check the licensing status of each person. The department can revoke a center's authority if it doesn't have licensed people to provide the counseling.

The legislation also would prohibit pregnancy help centers from any affiliation with adoption placement services.

The 2011 law already prohibited any affiliation by pregnancy help centers with abortion services.

"What we want to do is make that a truly neutral place," said Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen. "There's no opposition from the adoption industry to this bill."

The House of Representatives approved the changes last month 54-14.

The 2011 law, meanwhile, is under challenge from Planned Parenthood in federal court.

South Dakota has two registered centers, one in Sioux Falls and one in Rapid City. Novstrup said he believes more will open when the court fight is over.

"There's no value in becoming a pregnancy help center until that lawsuit is settled," Novstrup said.

Sen. Angie Buhl O'Donnell, D-Sioux Falls, said she was adopted and thinks adoption services are "beautiful" places because they help put together families.

Buhl O'Donnel said pregnant women might be better helped during their visit to a pregnancy help center if they could hear from people directly knowledgeable about adoption.

She also questioned whether the legislation should proceed while the lawsuit is pending.

"This seems a little bit ahead of its time," Buhl O'Donnell said.

Novstrup was the lead Senate sponsor of the 2011 law and is in the same role this year. He said nothing in the new legislation prevents or discourages a woman from going to an adoption agency.

The measure's prime sponsor is Rep. Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon. The bill now goes to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for his decision whether to sign it into law.