South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard recently signed House Bill 1216, a bill that will severely alter the process women must undergo to receive an abortion. The legislation will lengthen the time frame women must wait between an initial abortion consultation and the procedure from 24 to 72 hours—the longest wait time in the country—and require them to seek counseling from a state-approved pregnancy help center. Supporters of the bill argue that women are often coerced into abortions by people who do not want them to have a child, such as husbands, boyfriends, parents, or employers. Opponents argue that the bill is unconstitutional and that many of the state-approved pregnancy centers are conservative, faith-based organizations, that are biased and may give factually incorrect information to women who are still in the decision-making process. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota both have threatened lawsuits and are planning on challenging the new law by asking a judge to strike down the measure as unconstitutional.
South Dakota has a long history of controversial abortion bills and many attempts by the legislature to limit women’s access to abortion by making it illegal or very difficult to receive. In 2006 the South Dakota Legislature banned abortion except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. The law never took effect, though, due to a successful petition drive by prochoice supporters to refer the measure to the ballot. The electorate voted in opposition to the bill with 55.6% supporting a women’s right to chose whether or not to have an abortion.
In 2008, voters once again opposed an effort by the legislature to ban abortion through a proposed constitutional amendment known as Initiated Measure 11. This ban was less severe than the one proposed in 2006 and would have allowed for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or the prevention of serious injury to the mother. Even with the new exceptions, 55.3% of the population still voted against the amendment.
Having an abortion in South Dakota is already a struggle for many women. The only clinic that provides the service within the state boundaries is in Sioux Falls and does not have a resident doctor. Instead, a physician flies in once a week to meet with women who then have to wait 24 hours to have the procedure. According to the Guttmacher Institute, prior to passage of this new bill a woman was already required to “receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.” House Bill 1217 lengthens that wait time to 72 hours, which would gravely endanger the already limited access women have to abortions and make it difficult to travel to have an abortion if a women so chooses.
The bill would also make South Dakota the only state to require women to seek counseling from a “pregnancy help center,” also known as a crisis pregnancy center (CPC). A 2006 Congressional report found that many of these centers tend to give women false information and to be biased, often religiously affiliated, organizations. “The vast majority of the federally funded pregnancy resource centers contacted during the investigation provided information about the risks of abortion that was false or misleading,” notes the investigation. “In many cases, this information was grossly inaccurate or distorted.” In addition, many CPCs are connected to religious organizations and are staffed by volunteers committed to a religious agenda—meaning that women seeking abortions may be coerced into keeping an unwanted pregnancy.
Supporters of this bill maintain that they are looking out for the best interest of women by informing them of their options. Senator Al Novstrup, the lead sponsor of the bill, argues that women get little counseling before they have an abortion and are often pressured into doing so. Opponents of the bill argue that this limits the rights of women to choose and it is unconstitutional to require women to seek counseling before making a decision that directly affects them. Another 2005 law requiring that women be told that an abortion will end the life of a human being has still yet to be fully implemented because it remains tied up in the courts.
The law is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2011.
“Gov. Daugaard is ignoring the citizens of South Dakota, who have twice expressed that they do not want the government to intrude on their private medical decisions,” comments Alisha Sedor, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota. “It is outrageous for politicians to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship in such an egregious way. Forcing women, against their will, to consult with an unlicensed, anti-choice, individual about their pregnancies flies in the face of patient privacy.”
 Bob Ellis, “Citizens Mobilizing to Defend Pro-life Bill,” Dakota Voice, 12 March 2011, accessed 15 March 2011, < http://www.dakotavoice.com/2011/03/citizens-mobilizing-to-defend-pro-life-bill>.
 Meredith Melnick, “Women Seeking Abortion in South Dakota Will Wait Three Days,” Time, 23 March 2011, accessed 29 March 2011, <http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/23/women-seeking-abortions-in-south-dakota-will-wait-three-days/>.
 “Constitutional Amenments,” South Dakota Secretary of State website, accessed 6 April 2011, <http://www.sdsos.gov/electionsvoteregistration/pastelections_electioninfo06_GEballotquestions.shtm>.
 General Election—November 2, 2010,” South Dakota Secretary of State website, accessed 6 April 2011, <http://electionresults.sd.gov/applications/st25cers3/resultsSW.aspx?type=bq&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1>.
 Ellis, “Citizens Mobilizing to Defend Pro-Life Bill.”
Guttmacher Institute, State Facts about Abortion: South Dakota, 2011, accessed 15 March 2011, <http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/sfaa/south_dakota.html>.
 Robin Marty, “Will the Governor of South Dakota Sign the Country’s Longest Abortion Wait Period?” Care2, 13 March 2011, accessed 15 March 2011, <http://www.care2.com/causes/womens-rights/blog/will-the-governor-of-south-dakota-sign-the-countrys-longest-abortion-wait-period/>.
 Chet Brokaw, “South Dakota Senate Passes Bill Requiring 72 House Wait Period before Abortion,” Huffington Post, 2 March 2011, accessed 15 March 2011, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/02/south-dakota-senate-passes-abortion-bill_n_830609.html>.
 “Pregnancy Crisis Centers,” National Abortion Federation, accessed 15 March 2011, <http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/facts/cpc.html#n5>.
 Brokaw, “South Dakota Senate Passes Bill Requiring 72 House Wait Period Before Abortion.”
 Marty, “Will the Governor of South Dakota Sign the Country’s Longest Abortion Wait Period?”
 Melnick, “Women Seeking Abortion in South Dakota Will Wait Three Days.”