PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A bill that would require women seeking abortions to wait longer after first seeing an abortion clinic doctor was approved Wednesday night by the South Dakota House.
The House voted 56-13 to pass a measure that says Saturdays, Sundays and holidays would not count in calculating the three-day wait, already the nation's longest waiting period for abortions. The bill next goes to the Senate.
The bill would change provisions of a 2011 law that established the three-day waiting period and required women to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers, which discourage abortions, before they can terminate a pregnancy. Planned Parenthood, which operates the one abortion clinic in the state, in Sioux Falls, challenged the law in court but recently withdrew its appeal of the three-day wait.
The counseling requirement, imposed to determine whether a woman is being coerced into getting an abortion, is still being challenged in federal court, where a judge has temporarily blocked it from taking effect.
The measure's main sponsor, Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, said the law needs to be changed in case the counseling requirement takes effect. Counselors in pregnancy counseling centers might not be available on weekends and holidays, so the law should make sure centers have time to meet with women considering abortion, he said.
"This bill is not unreasonable. It does not present an undue burden," Hansen said.
"It in fact is necessary for a pregnant mother in this state, in order that they can make a fully informed decision regarding the termination of a whole, separate, unique and living human being," Hansen said.
But opponents said the measure would be an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to get an abortion because some women who live far from Sioux Falls would have to make multiple trips to the city before getting an abortion.
Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said the bill would severely restrict and possibly deny a woman's ability to get an abortion in South Dakota.
"The measure would force the state's only comprehensive women's health care clinic to discontinue providing abortion services, effectively banning abortion in South Dakota," Gibson said.
Gibson said lawmakers should remember that in two statewide votes in recent years, South Dakotans rejected measures that sought to ban nearly all abortions.
Hansen said the bill might have little effect because Planned Parenthood has a doctor at its Sioux Falls clinic only once a week, so women already have to wait a week or so to get an abortion after first meeting with a clinic doctor.
Hansen said there are about 740 abortions in South Dakota each year, an average of 14 a week. A pregnancy help center needs time to conduct those 14 counseling sessions each week, he said.
Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, a pastor, said she objects to the bill because it assumes pregnancy help centers will not help women on weekends.
"The suggestion that counselors appointed for this purpose cannot make time on weekends and holidays to help their neighbors make life and death decisions is offensive to me," Soli said.
Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, said the measure might make a woman spend two nights in a hotel waiting for an abortion, but the extra time for reflection and counseling might convince a woman to give birth and put the baby up for adoption.