A law signed by South Dakota State Governor Denis Daugaard this week (22.03.11) means that women will face the longest waiting period for an abortion in the USA – three days after their initial consultation. They will also be forced to attend ‘counselling’ at a ‘pregnancy health centre’.
For women in South Dakota accessing abortion services is already hard. There is only one abortion clinic and much of South Dakota is rural. Doctors are in short supply with no-one willing to perform abortions locally, resulting in out-of-state doctors flying or driving long distances to perform abortions.
Kathi Di Nicola, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, explains how the new restrictions will undoubtedly make the situation worse:
“Many women who are seeking abortion care already have to take time off work, arrange for childcare… The law will certainly make it harder for some women to get abortions…women could have to drive there several times to schedule an abortion, visit a crisis pregnancy centre and then get an abortion”.
The ‘counselling’ further infringes a women’s right to freely choose. Many other states require counselling from doctors or clinic staff members but in South Dakota the counselling will come from anti-choice organisations.
The state will publish a list of ‘pregnancy help centres’ that patients are permitted to attend. However these centres do not exist to help, but rather to persuade the women not to have an abortion. Under the new law, centres can only provide counselling if their focus is to “educate, counsel and otherwise assist women to help maintain their relationship with their unborn children”.
As Sarah Stoesz, president of the local Planned Parenthood Centre highlights, the ‘counsellors’ qualifications are their anti-abortion beliefs and little else: “They’re not licensed, they’re not regulated, they’re not accredited and they’re openly ideological”.
She goes on to say, “Employees at the pregnancy help centres have a record of providing misinformation…and use tactics like displaying graphic photos or quoting scripture”.
Anti-choice groups argue that the law will protect women from being coerced into having an abortion against their will. Although as Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families says, “It assumes that women cannot make decisions about abortions”.
It appears that South Dakota will happily trust women with children but not with choice.
Abortion rights groups plan to file a lawsuit challenging the measure but unfortunately Governor Daugaard already appears to have support for his bill. He said in a written statement that he has “conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged to raise private money to finance the state’s court fight”.