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Rumored abortion-related travel bans 'unenforceable,' SD lawmaker tells VP Harris at White House roundtable

Rep. Erin Healy and four other Democratic state legislators were invited to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion on women's reproductive rights in their states.

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Vice President Kamala Harris listens as South Dakota state Rep. Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls, speaks on the state's abortion laws during a roundtable discussion at the White House on Friday, July 8, 2022.
Screenshot / White House live feed
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WASHINGTON — A South Dakota state representative was in Washington on Friday to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and other lawmakers for a roundtable discussion on the fight to protect women’s reproductive rights in Republican-controlled states.

Rep. Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls, represented South Dakota at the White House, alongside Democratic lawmakers from Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska — all of which have Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.

The discussion came on the same day President Joe Biden issued an executive order dedicating additional resources to women seeking abortions.

“Just weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States did something that, before them, was unthinkable and unprecedented, which is the United States Supreme Court took a constitutional right — that had previously been recognized — from the women of America, and with great consequence,” Harris said, kicking off discussion. “As we know, this is not a law school debate, this is not an intellectual discussion and debate. This is real, in the way it is currently, and will, affect the women and girls in America.

Harris said the group gathered before her all share a belief that women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies without interference from their government.

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“She should be able to make a decision about whether or not to have an abortion in the privacy of a safe palace where she will make that decision,” Harris continued, “be it with her pastor, her priest, her rabbi, her family, a physician — but not requiring permission from her government.”

Calling the overturn of Roe v. Wade a “health care crisis,” Harris pointed to the story of a 10-year-old girl who was denied an abortion under Ohio law, noting that the Biden administration recognizes the importance of access to abortions.

Abortion Rights March in downtown Sioux Falls on the evening of June 29.
Abortion rights supporters opposed to the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health participate in a protest in Sioux Falls on the evening of June 29. Abortion rights in the state may be under further scrutiny during the upcoming special legislative session.
Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service

“When we look at this issue, we know that it affects our country at every level, in each and every region,” Harris said. “The federal government, we, as an administration, recognizes the power, importance and responsibility we have to partner with elected leaders at a local, state and federal level.”

Adding that 12 states currently outlaw abortion in instances of rape of incest, Harris turned the discussion over to each of the five legislators — four of which were women — gathered with her.

After hearing from Indiana state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta and Florida state Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Harris called on Healy to share her perspective on South Dakota’s abortion laws.

“South Dakota trigger laws are placing strict bans on abortion have been enacted since Roe was overturned, and our governer and Republican legislators are still calling for a special session to strengthen the state’s abortion statues. We have been hearing that legislators may try to restrict physicians in other states from providing an abortion to South Dakotans,” Healy told the vice president. “Any legislation that requires out-of-state physicians to follow South Dakota’s statute should be viewed as unconstitutional and completely unenforceable. We’ve also heard that Republican legislators may try to restrict freedom from traveling across the state for reproductive healthcare. This is also unenforceable. “

After one South Dakotan posted this rumor on Twitter in June, South Dakota state Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, adamantly denied any such discussions, telling the original poster to check his sources.

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Healy reinforced her belief to Harris that South Dakotans should be free to travel anywhere in the country, and that rumors of proposed legislation restricting that paints a grim picture for the future.

In addition, Healy shared her concern that the state’s criminalization of abortion as a Class 6 felony — punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $4,000 — will intimidate physicians in South Dakota, which could result in some of them leaving the state.

“Physicians will leave our state because they will be unable to give proper care to their patients or they will be too afraid to give the care that is needed,” Healy said. “How close to death does someone need to be before a doctor can intervene?”

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Rep. Erin Healy

In her final appeal to the vice president, Healy shared the message that those needing abortion are people, not statistics.

“Abortion is often an issue talked about in numbers and statistics, and each person seeking an abortion has a story and a life. South Dakotans who need access to abortion are real people. All people who need access to abortion are real people,” Healy concluded. “Those lives and stories are what we need to keep in mind today as we’re making laws, and that’s what I’ll continue to do today and as we discuss abortion policies in our nation and in South Dakota...”

Healy was followed by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Nebraska, and Sen. Diane Sands, of Montana, who, as neighbors to South Dakota, shared their concerns.

“My daughter now does not have the same rights that I’ve had most of my life. The government does not deserve a seat at my daughter’s or any of our daughters’ exam table. … Women are being sent back to the Dark Ages without a say and what in the world happens to them in their most private matters in their lives,” Pansing Brooks said. “However, there’s always hope for the women in our nation. As President Biden said today, we must vote. We must get out and vote.”

Pansing Brooks shared her experience in the Nebraska Legislature, when in January, the unicameral chamber defeated a “draconian” trigger law that would have banned all abortions without exception, and feared what may come of a potential upcoming special session.

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“As we look ahead to a special session for the Nebraska unicameral, the fight to protect reproductive rights will continue with passion and determination,” Pansing Brooks said. “I will not put the lives of Nebraskans at risk, and I will continue to fight for all women’s reproductive rights.”

After roughly 20 minutes of discussion, Harris brought the meeting to a close, hinting at lawmakers and online viewers to vote in upcoming elections.

“Well, this really does highlight the importance of elections,” Harris concluded.

Though South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has announced that a special session is upcoming, no dates have been set for the gathering, as legislative leadership in the state work to find dates for the 105 bicameral legislators to reconvene in Pierre.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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