Thursday, March 3, 2011

South Dakota Senate passes bill mandating 72-hour wait before abortion

SD governor says he'll likely sign abortion bill


PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota's governor said Thursday that he'll likely sign off on new abortion guidelines that would be some of the strictest in the country, requiring women to wait 72 hours before they could go through with the procedure and to submit to counseling about why they shouldn't.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican who opposes abortion rights, said he hasn't made a final decision on the legislation, but that he's "inclined to sign it at this stage."

About half the states, including South Dakota, make women wait 24 hours before going through with an abortion. But the 72-hour wait would be the longest in the nation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

Under the new guidelines, a woman would have to undergo counseling at one of several state-approved "pregnancy help centers," all of which seek to persuade women not to have abortions. No other state has such a requirement, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. And only a doctor who has met personally with a woman and determined she's seeking an abortion voluntarily could schedule the procedures.

Daugaard said he believes women should receive more time and counseling before having an abortion.

"I think these decisions are certainly very important decisions. A decision of this significance warrants that," the governor said.

Opponents of the bill contend it is overly intrusive and would place an undue burden on abortion seekers, violating their rights by interfering with their access to medical care. The new guidelines would almost surely be challenged in court.

The state's Legislative Research Council has estimated it would cost $1.75 million to $4 million to defend the bill.

Asked about the potential cost of a lawsuit, Daugaard said Thursday that he considered any spending on a lawsuit to be a "one-time expense," rather than ongoing expenses that he's sought to cut. Daugaard has proposed a 10 percent cut to most state agencies to help close an estimated $127 million spending gap.

Advocates on both sides are lobbying Daugaard on the bill.

Leslee Unruh, the president and founder of Alpha Center, a Sioux Falls pregnancy help center, said Wednesday she's spoken to Daugaard about her support the measure.

"I feel that the governor is going to read the bill on its merits," Unruh said. "The governor's got a big job."

The American Civil Liberties Union's South Dakota chapter, which has sued the state several times before over different laws, and other groups denounced the bill. "The South Dakota legislature should be ashamed of this demeaning and destructive law," state director Robert Doody said in a statement.

The counseling bill comes after a separate proposal to make killing in the defense of an unborn child a "justifiable homicide" drew the attention of national groups. Many groups said the bill would endanger abortion providers. The state House eventually rejected that measure.