Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal to make South Dakota one of the hardest places in the country to get abortion pills gained support Tuesday from Republican House lawmakers, even though a federal judge has halted a similar state rule from taking effect.
Every Republican on the House Health and Human Services committee voted to advance the bill for a vote in the full chamber this week. It would require women seeking an abortion to make three separate trips to a doctor in order to take abortion pills. Women in South Dakota can currently get both drugs in the two-dose regimen during a single visit and take the second dose at home.
A federal judge this month granted a preliminary injunction against a similar rule that Noem pushed through in an executive order. Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's only clinic that regularly provides abortion services, sued the state, arguing it was an unconstitutional violation of abortion rights and would have made it practically impossible for the clinic to provide any medicine-induced abortions.
U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier, who was appointed under former President Bill Clinton, wrote in her order that the rule “likely imposes an undue burden on Planned Parenthood and its patients’ right to seek an abortion.” However, Noem has appealed her order to a higher court.
The governor's office acknowledged that most of the proposal is tied up in federal court and put a clause in the bill that stipulates most of it wouldn't take effect until the court battle is resolved.
The Supreme Court's willingness to consider striking down Roe v. Wade — the 1973 landmark decision that established the nationwide right to an abortion — has prompted a flurry of legislation in statehouses this year.
But Noem has argued that she brought the bill out of concern for women's safety.
“In the instance of telemedicine abortions, someone can make a phone call, get online, order the drugs to be sent to their home and there is no medical supervision,” she said at a news conference this month.
The Food and Drug Administration last year permanently lifted a requirement that people seeking the drugs pick them up in person after a scientific review supported broadening access.
The agency found complications from the medication to be rare. About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are done through medication rather than surgery. The FDA has reported only 26 deaths associated with the drug since 2000, though not all of those can be directly attributed to the medication due to existing health conditions and other factors.
“For South Dakota to put these barriers in front of women says that they believe they are smarter than the FDA,” Sarah Stoez, the president of Planned Parenthood North Central States, told The Associated Press this month.
Noem is not the only South Dakota politician taking aim at abortion pills. Her Republican primary challenger, Rep. Steve Haugaard is pushing a proposal to ban administration of the drugs altogether, even though they are also used for treating ulcers, managing miscarriages and inducing labor.
He also pushed the House to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would define a fertilized egg as a living human being. His proposal was defeated by a one-vote margin Tuesday in the Republican-controlled House after fellow Republicans pointed out it would add a potentially unwieldy definition to the state constitution.
But Stoesz questioned why Republican lawmakers are aggressively attacking abortion rights when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected later this year to issue a ruling that could potentially strike down Roe. South Dakota is one of a dozen states with a law to ban abortions that would be triggered if Roe is defeated.
“What the Legislature is doing right now just strikes me as purely political posturing,” Stoesz said. “But at the end of the day, real people's lives are affected.”
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