'Born alive' abortion measure criticized by medical community, passes South Dakota House

A measure to require physicians to save the life of an infant born following a botched abortion sailed to victory in the South Dakota State House of Representatives on Thursday, Jan. 28, in Pierre. The vote was along party lines.

South Dakota legislator Rep. Fred Deutsch, a Republican from rural Codington County, stands up on the House floor to speak in favor of his bill that would penalize doctors in the state $100,000 for failing to save the life of an infant born after a failed abortion. Medical experts say his bill was vaguely written and criminalizes an act that is virtually unheard of South Dakota, as state law bans abortions after 12 weeks. Christopher Vondracek / FNS

PIERRE S.D. — The South Dakota House of Representatives passed abortion legislation on Thursday, Jan. 28, that the state's medical association has called a political stunt, but supporters say is needed to ensure doctors don't harm or kill an infant born following a botched abortion procedure.

House Bill 1051, which calls to "maintain the life of any child born alive" and attaches a $100,000 penalty to any doctor who violates these terms, received 59 Republican votes, sailing to passage after brief debate.

The seven Democrats in attendance, plus Rep. Larry Tidemann , R-Brookings, voted to oppose the measure, which they argued addresses a medical situation that is virtually impossible in South Dakota, given state law bans abortions after 12 weeks.

Rep. Fred Deutsch , a Codington County Republican and prime sponsor, told lawmakers his measure did not compromise a woman's legal right to an abortion but was rather "about (stopping) infanticide."

"Any baby born alive after an abortion must be treated with the same means, same medical skills and treatment provided any other child," said Deutsch.


Rep. Jennifer Keintz , an Eden Democrat, called on lawmakers to be more discerning about what she suggested was a legally flawed bill and could criminalize physicians attempting to assist in rare medical situations, such as an ectopic pregnancy.

"It seems to me abortion bills like this one are not subject to the same critical scrutiny (as other bills)," Keintz said.

South Dakota lawmaker Rep. Jennifer Keintz, a Eden Democrat, spoke against HB 1051, an abortion bill that aims to ensure medical care after a botched abortion, saying the bill had not been thoroughly scrutinized by her colleagues for potential legal flaws. Keintz was one of 8 votes in the 70-member-body to vote against the bill. She was joined by six Democrats and one Republican. Christopher Vondracek / FNS

Keintz's remarks come on the heels of the state's leading medical association, who on Tuesday blasted Deutsch's bill during a hearing in the House Health and Human Services committee for the lack of scientific literature informing the debate.

"This bill is about getting a card that says you're 'pro-life,'" said Dean Krogman, a lobbyist for the South Dakota State Medical Association . "It's not about any need in our state."

South Dakota is one of 13 states to see so-called "born alive" measures surface during the 2021 legislative session, according to Guttmacher Institute.

In 2019, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, faced backlash when he appeared to suggest in a radio interview that a fetus accidentally delivered to term following an attempted abortion would set off a "discussion" rather than immediate life-saving medical care.


Northam's office later said his comments were taken out of context, and that women seeking a third trimester abortion often have nonviable pregnancies or severe fetal abnormalities. Nonetheless, a spate of states have taken up such "born-alive" measures.

Thursday's bill did not receive votes from Republican Reps. Sydney Davis and Taylor Rehfeldt , as well as Democrat Rep. Jamie Smith , who were marked excused. The measure now proceeds to the state Senate.

Contact Vondracek at, or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek.

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