Sunday, February 27, 2011

South Dakota’s new abortion law


I’m reading South Dakota’s new law to make women seeking abortions jump through hoops.

A woman with an unwanted pregnancy – or as the act puts it, “a pregnant mother considering termination of her relationship with her child by an abortion” – must go to a “pregnancy help center” (described in the act as having a central mission of helping “pregnant mothers” “maintain and keep their relationship with their unborn children”) for “counseling,” that is, to receive information she does not want about help she could receive if she didn’t have an abortion. By the way, the “problem” the bill claims to be addressing is that “In the overwhelming majority of cases, abortion surgery and medical abortions are scheduled for a pregnant mother without the mother first meeting and consulting with a physician or establishing a traditional physician-patient relationship.” Yes, South Dakota, that would be because you drove almost every abortion provider out of the state.

Also, the law claims, abortions are currently scheduled “without a medical or social assessment concerning the appropriateness [!!!] of such a procedure or whether the pregnant mother’s decision is truly voluntary, uncoerced, and informed”.

It asserts that “Such practices are contrary to the best interests of the pregnant mother and her child and there is a need to protect the pregnant mother’s interest in her relationship with her child and her health by passing remedial legislation”. See? they’re just protecting her interests.

Like the Oklahoma law of 2009, which claimed that the need to prevent sex-selection abortions required that abortion-seekers be asked loads of intrusive questions and their answers be put on the internet, South Dakota is also deeply concerned with women’s motives, asserting that doctors have a “common law duty to determine that the physician’s patient’s consent is voluntary and uncoerced and informed”. Which is why they need to be sent to pregnancy help centers to be coerced and misinformed.

The doctor, like the woman, must jump through time-wasting hoops, like meeting the woman “physically and personally” to assess not just her medical but also her “personal circumstances,” determining whether her decision to “submit to an abortion is the result of any coercion, subtle or otherwise.” Do they do subtle in South Dakota? Reading the language of this thing, I tend to doubt it. The doctor shall demand to know the age of the father and “shall determine whether any disparity in the age between the mother and father is a factor in creating an undue influence or coercion.”

Then the doctor has to send her to one of those centers, which will also cross-examine her for signs of coercion. The patient must then give the doctor “a written statement that she obtained a consultation with a pregnancy help center, which sets forth the name and address of the pregnancy help center, the date and time of the consultation, and the name of the counselor at the pregnancy help center with whom she consulted”. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

The state will maintain a list of pregnancy help centers, which for some reason seem to escape from the level of scrutiny and regulation imposed on doctors, or indeed any scrutiny or regulation at all (“Nothing in this Act may be construed to impose any duties or liability upon a pregnancy help center”) (such as a requirement that its counselors have any medical knowledge or indeed any training at all, or that they tell the truth). However, any center on the list must have as one of their “principal missions... to educate, counsel, and otherwise assist women to help them maintain their relationship with their unborn children”. And they can’t perform abortions, be affiliated with anyone who does, refer women for abortions, or have ever referred women for abortions since 2008. Yeah, those are definitely the people to keep a pregnant woman safe from coercion.

While the pregnancy help centers are supposed to determine if the woman is being coerced, they are “under no obligation to communicate with the abortion provider in any way,” even if they see signs of coercion, and are “under no obligation to submit any written or other form of confirmation that the pregnant mother consulted with the pregnancy help center.” Presumably because the centers which the legislators most want pregnant women to go to would refuse to cooperate in any way with satanic abortion mills.

If the doctor doesn’t follow the act’s provisions, any patient who has had an abortion can sue him/her for $10,000 plus attorney’s fees, plus any damages that “the woman or other survivors of the deceased unborn child may be entitled to receive under any common law or statutory provisions”. In such court cases, there will be a rebuttable presumption that if the doctor had made her jump through all the hoops, she would have decided not to have an abortion. If the court decides that someone coerced the woman, there will be a nonrebuttable presumption that she would have decided not to have an abortion.

Fortunately for pregnant women who don’t want to go to a “pregnancy help center” to have someone try to talk them out of their decision, the only real requirement the law puts on a patient is that she give the doctor a written statement that she went to a center, not that she actually go there. There is no enforcement in this act that applies to the patient. So my advice to them, as it was with the Oklahoma law, is to lie. Pick a center off the list at random, tell your doctor that you went there Tuesday and spoke with Susie. Lie, it’s an appropriate, ethical and legal response to this coercive, intrusive, obnoxious law.

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