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South Dakota Abortion Law Challenged in ACLU Suit

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 31, 2011 12:46 PM

On behalf of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU filed suit late last week, challenging a South Dakota abortion law that imposes a 3 day abortion waiting period and forces women to receive counseling from unregulated "pregnancy help centers."

The civil rights organizations are arguing that the law severely restricts women's access to health care, violates a patient's right to privacy, and impinges on a doctor's First Amendment rights against compelled speech.

The South Dakota abortion law, passed in March, is thought to be the strictest in the country.

Prior to obtaining an abortion, a woman must do the following:

  • Receive counseling at a "pregnancy help center";
  • Provide her doctor with proof that she received counseling;
  • Be told by her physician of every potential risk, even if questioned by the medical community; and
  • Wait 72 hours.

One main concern is that the imposition of unregulated counseling and the conveyance of potentially unsound medical information places women at risk, impinging on their ability to give informed consent.

Though the Supreme Court has ruled that a 24-hour abortion waiting period is reasonable, the plaintiffs also argue that 72 hours is excessive and makes it difficult for women in South Dakota to obtain an abortion.

Indeed, South Dakota's unique situation will likely play into whether or not the waiting period is found to be reasonable or an undue burden.

Planned Parenthood Sioux Falls is the only abortion location in the state according to the complaint. It, however, has to fly in out-of-state doctors once a week, meaning that women will have to travel sometimes far distances twice before receiving treatment.

Essentially, even if the counseling provisions in this South Dakota abortion law are upheld, the outlook for the 72-hour abortion waiting period is looking quite grim.

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