Health group disputes SDakota 3-day abortion wait

May 27, 2011 - 1:27 PM

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday seeking to block a South Dakota law that would require women seeking abortions to face the nation's longest waiting period — three days — and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortion.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to suspend the law from taking effect until a final ruling on whether the new law, set to take effect July 1, violates a woman's constitutional right to abortion established under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

The legal challenge was filed in Sioux Falls, where Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota operates South Dakota's only abortion clinic.

State Rep. Roger Hunt, the chief sponsor of the bill in this year's legislative session, said the lawsuit was expected.

"I don't understand why, because it just seeks to give women more information and it seeks to remove coercion, seeks to deal with a number of coercion elements where you have possible rapes and problems within families and what not, and we're trying to help those women deal with that coercion," said Hunt, R-Brandon.

"All of that seems to me to be in support of women, but for some reason Planned Parenthood sees their money supply and the abortions being dried, up so obviously they're going to fight," Hunt said.

The lawsuit contends the law violates a woman's legal right to abortion by imposing "the most extreme mandatory delay in the country." The measure also interferes with a woman's right to privacy and violates the free-speech rights of women and their doctors, the lawsuit says.

 "This law goes farther than any other in the country in intruding on the doctor-patient relationship and putting women and families at risk," Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said in a written statement.

The private, nonprofit crisis pregnancy centers located in South Dakota's largest cities have delayed registering with the state to provide the counseling required under the law, partly because they expect the measure to be suspended during the court battle.

The law says an abortion can only be scheduled by a doctor who has personally met with a woman and determined she is voluntarily seeking the procedure. It cannot be performed until at least 72 hours after that first consultation.

The woman also would have to consult with a pregnancy help center, all of which encourage women to give birth. The centers would determine if a woman is being pressured to have an abortion and tell her about services available to help her give birth and keep a child.

Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, called the law "intrusive" and said it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.

"I think it's unfortunate we have to go through this legal process when in 2006 and 2008 I believe the people in South Dakota said government shouldn't be involved in this kind of personal decision," Nicolay said Friday.

A state law to ban all abortions was referred to the 2006 ballot and rejected 56 percent to 44 percent. In 2008, a less restrictive abortion ban was defeated 56 percent to 44 percent by state voters.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union also took part in filing the lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the law plays politics with women's health issues.

"It is demeaning for the government to force a woman to visit a non-medical facility with a political agenda when she is making one of the most personal medical decisions of her life," Amiri said in a written statement. "We hope the court will stop the law from going into effect."