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South Dakota legislative committee advances one of two abortion bills

PIERRE, S.D. -- A legislative committee has advanced a bill which, if passed, would require patients to sign a state-mandated “informed consent” form prior to receiving an abortion, and killed another bill which would have required patients to undergo a sonogram prior to receiving an abortion.

The Senate Health and Human Services committee on Friday, Jan. 25 unanimously voted to pass Senate Bill 72, a bill recommended by the governor’s office which would more strictly enforce the state’s already mandated informed consent process. Patients seeking abortions in South Dakota already must sign consent forms for treatment, but SB 72 would require providers to use a specific consent form written by the state Department of Health (DOH).

The completed forms would be subject to DOH inspection at any time, as is procedure now. Personal identifying information of patients is redacted prior to DOH inspection, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota spokesperson Jen Aulwes said.

Aulwes said SB 72 would change the Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood clinic’s current consent form process “pretty significantly” due to the DOH form’s length and content.

The DOH’s form, provided to Forum News Service by Planned Parenthood, is 13 pages long and requires the patient’s signature on each page. It includes information on the potential side effects of early- through late-term abortions, even though the Sioux Falls clinic only performs abortions through the first trimester.

Aulwes said the DOH’s form is “intended to scare and coerce patients by describing a graphic procedure that is not even within the realm of possibility in our clinic.”

The form also lists contact information for “private organizations offering alternatives to abortion,” several of which are religious organizations, and detailed descriptions of fetal development in two-week increments.

Planned Parenthood of Sioux Falls already provides patients much of this information verbally, in accordance with the state’s existing informed consent law. Physicians who violate the law can be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor. The patient in this case would not be liable.

Aulwes said the clinic’s current consent form has been audited several times by the DOH and has never been found in violation of the law.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem disputed the clinic’s current practices, saying in a written statement that Planned Parenthood has been “muddying the waters” of informed consent. She called SB 72 a “crackdown” on abortion providers and “a step forward for life.”

“For years, Planned Parenthood has been muddying the waters when it comes to their legal obligations to inform pregnant moms about their decision to end the life of a baby,” Noem said. “This legislation puts an end to those games by giving specific, scientific information to women before an abortion.”

The committee on Friday unanimously voted to advance SB 72 to the Senate’s consent calendar. It is scheduled for a floor vote on Monday, Jan. 28.

Following the committee’s vote on SB 72, it voted to defer to the 41st legislative day -- essentially killing -- Senate Bill 6, which would have required abortion providers to perform a sonogram on patients prior to performing an abortion. It also would have required the patient to hear the fetus’s heartbeat prior to the procedure.

Under current law, abortion providers are already required to offer patients an opportunity to view a sonogram, but SB 6 would have made the test mandatory, and would have required physicians to offer a verbal explanation of the fetus’s size and development. SB 6’s prime sponsor Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said patients could look away from the screen if they wanted to, but would theoretically still hear the physician’s verbal explanation of the image.

South Dakota Right to Life, an anti-abortion lobbying group, opposed the bill, contending that its language was vulnerable to a court challenge. Several Republican senators on the committee who identify as pro-life said they did not support SB 6 for this reason.

Committee Chair Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said she felt SB 6 “almost moves into coercion” and “(takes) away any kind of dignity and rights of a woman.” Soholt is a registered nurse and women’s health care provider.

“I am not a supporter of abortion, but I do believe in the rights of people to not be harassed,” Soholt said before voting against the bill.

Nelson said he found this reasoning “patronizing and insulting to women,” and that women can “handle” the information.

The committee ultimately voted down the bill 5-2.

Nelson attempted to “smoke-out” the bill later on Friday, or bring it to the senate floor for a vote despite the committee’s vote -- an action that requires two-thirds of the Senate’s support. His motion failed.