South Dakota Criminalizes Late Abortions

Sunday, March 13, 2016
Gov. Dennis Daugaard

By Lacey Louwagie, Courthouse News Service


PIERRE, S.D. (CN) - The South Dakota Legislature approved - and the governor promptly signed - a bill outlawing abortion after the 20th week of gestation based on a belief that this is when a fetus can register pain.


According to Senate Bill 72 (pdf) "there is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by twenty weeks after fertilization." The bill provides some exceptions to save the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest.


Doctors could be sentenced to a year in jail and fined $2,000. The woman would not be punished.


Some called the bill unnecessary. The only clinic that performs abortion in South Dakota is Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls, which will not perform abortions after the 14th week of gestation.


The bill's author, state Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, called that "baloney."


"I don't believe they are cutting it off at 14 weeks," he told Courthouse News.


He denied critics' claims that he introduced the bill as part "of being a movement, or an agenda."


"I just did it because I love kids. I do all I can to support kids, and I don't like seeing kids in pain."


The bill requires medical professionals to fill out a form answering 23 questions about any abortion performed in the state. Information sought includes the reason for the abortion, the mother's age and race, the gestational age of the fetus, and how the procedure was paid for.


Monroe said the questionnaire was for "data collection," and said he didn't care much about that aspect of the bill.


"It passed and I didn't want to start messing with the bill," he said.


The bill sailed through both houses by large margins, 59-7 in the House and 26-7 in the Senate.


According to the National Institutes of Health, the fetal nervous system and brain may not be developed enough to register pain until week 26. But the bill requires practitioners who claim the exemption for medical emergency to "deliver the child in the manner which, in reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, but only if it is consistent with preserving the pregnant mother's life and preventing an irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."


Monroe, a chiropractor, said he has substantial knowledge about neurological development.


"You're going to find different scientific opinions on both sides, and some will be driven by agendas, and some will be driven by good research," he said. "These are the things I try to sort out."


Similar laws have been passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.


Monroe said he did not receive a single call or email from his constituents about the bill, from either side.


"My district basically knows that this is the way I am and it's one of the reasons they vote for me," he said.


Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, signed the bill on Thursday.


To Learn More:

State Abortion Restriction Laws have Averaged almost One a Week Since 2010 (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Federal Court Approves Doctors Telling Patients that Abortion Can Lead to Suicide (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

South Dakota in Turmoil over a Bill to Call Killing Abortion Doctors “Justifiable Homicide” (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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