The State-Level War on Choice: Updates from South Dakota

February 21, 2011

Attention to recent attacks on reproductive rights primarily has focused on the national level, as Congressional Republicans have pushed bills and amendments to defund Title X family planning programs and eliminate federal support for Planned Parenthood, limit the ability to obtain health insurance covering abortion, and possibly provide protection for hospitals refusing to provide abortions, even in life-threatening situations.

We hope and expect, of course, that these measures will fail to make it through the Senate, or that they will be vetoed by President Obama should the Senate fail to put on the brakes. But it may be more difficult to hold back anti-abortion legislation at the state level, where concentrated efforts to block women’s access to abortion are underway.

Let’s look at recent bills in South Dakota, where women are already limited to just one provider in the entire state.

South Dakota’s HB 1217 would force women to visit crisis pregnancy centers (called “pregnancy help centers” in the bill) in order to effectively get their permission to obtain an abortion. Those centers

“shall inform her about what education, counseling, and other assistance is available to help the pregnant mother keep and care for her child, and have a private interview to discuss her circumstances that may subject her decision to coercion.”

Crisis pregnancy centers are deceptive; though they welcome women with the promise of pregnancy tests and service referrals, they are set up to counsel women against having abortions and are known for lying to women about the consequences of abortion.

To be clear — South Dakota would like to force a woman to discuss her abortion with a non-medical, anti-abortion organization created to talk women out of choosing abortion. Apparently, subjecting women to that requirement doesn’t fall under the concern of “coercion” the bill expresses.

This measure also adds additional time and costs (travel, lodging, time off work, etc.) as further barriers to exercising one’s rights. There are no provisions in the bill requiring that CPCs see women in a timely manner — meaning some could delay until women are no loner eligible for abortion.

The lack of medical qualifications and truthfulness employed by CPCs is not the only problem in the proposed South Dakota law; the refusal to accept women’s own choices and rights to determine what happens to their bodies is a crucial concern. Unfortunately, we’re seeing this issue come up more often. As we combat the injustice of this proposed requirement, we must extend that outrage to other controversial and problematic restrictions, such as counseling required for trans women (and men) before sex reassignment surgery, and courts sentencing women to use hormonal birth control or restricting them from having more children.

Returning to South Dakota, a second bill, HB 1171, would have had the effect of making it legal to murder abortion providers. The bill reads, in part:

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child …

The bill has been tabled, for now; Rep. Phil Jensen, the legislator who sought to expand the state’s definition of “justifiable homicide,” has insisted that it wasn’t mean to be read that way.

“There’s no way in the world that I or any other representatives wish to see abortion doctors murdered,” Jensen said.

While arguing that the law wouldn’t apply to abortion providers, Jensen made this disturbing comment:

Asked whether he was conceding that the law could conceivably encourage such behavior [the murder of abortion providers], Jensen pushed back: “You could cross the street and get hit by a car. Could happen, couldn’t it?”

Perhaps I’m too cynical, but between this and the “forcible rape” language proposed, I don’t believe that Republican’s claims of, “Oh, we didn’t mean it that way,” are exactly sincere. Republicans know exactly what their proposals really mean — and how objectionable they are — and are simply pushing the anti-abortion rights agenda as far they can, using the “We didn’t mean it” line when the pushback is too strong. Anyone else feeling as cynical as I am?

Further reading:

South Dakota Seeks to Force Women into Crisis Pregnancy Centers” – Tiffany Campbell at RHRC

South Dakota Bill Would Force Women into CPCs” – Thomas at Blog for Choice

South Dakota Fails in Abortion Ban; Attempts Death by a Thousand Cuts” – Cara at The Curvature

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