Massachusetts Daily Collegian

South Dakota violating women’s rights

By Chelsea Whitton

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The so-called “War on Women” in recent weeks may be facing a new battle. South Dakota state legislatures have approved a law that will demand that any women considering abortion be counseled in the favor of carrying to term, and will need to wait three days after meeting with doctors and counselors in order to give time to reconsider before aborting.

The legislation, signed by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, and proposed in January by Phil Jensen, a Republican legislator from Rapid City, passed rapidly through the Republican-led state legislature where, according to the New York Times, “Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than three-to-one.”

The new law will be effective July 1, 2011 only in South Dakota, will most likely face challenge in Supreme Court, according to NPR, and I hope it does.

The law will make exceptions to medical emergency abortions, but will not legalize immediate procedures for rape or incest. This presents a large dilemma. Since when are rape or incest cases not an emergency? Sure, women, who have had unwanted sexual encounters with a family member, or are raped, may well be in need of guidance and counseling to work through the trauma. This forces them to undergo the pre-procedural anti-abortion, faith-based meetings that are unwarranted.

Abortion made legal under Roe vs. Wade in the United States Supreme Court ruling in 1973, did not mandate that there be a three-day period where women are faced to dwell on circumstances they have found themselves in and in some cases not by choice in any regard.

As a person of faith, with a very moderate pro-choice standpoint, I should clarify that my issue with the mandated counseling isn’t the fact that women are being encouraged to be counseled. I believe that counseling on a life-changing issue such as having a baby or not having a baby is of critical importance, especially in the case of rape, where a woman may feel the need to confide in professional opinion. While thinking things over may be a great option for women, the fact that it is required under law creates an issue.

Whether Republican or Democrat, it is easy to see both sides of the issue, as there is a great amount of federal funding going towards family planning under Title X Family Planning Program put in place in 1970, but on the other side, there are stringent restrictions on women’s reproductive rights set to be in place if Republicans decide to completely axe Title X funding.

However, when Republicans start to make claims they will tax non-subsidized abortion procedures this is also problematic. Often times women going forth with abortions are doing so because of no other choice due to financial restrictions or health problems. Even the drives through rural South Dakota for the numerous pre-procedure meetings are a restriction for women who already have children or full-time jobs.  

I realize it is hard to make a decision on whether or not to support abortions. I personally hope that the option for abortion procedures isn’t used as a backup plan, but I do believe abortion needs to be an option for women under law.

“What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortion,” reported the New York Times in the March 22 article, “Women Seeking Abortions in South Dakota to Get Anti-Abortion Advice.”

In a case such as this, looking at it from pro-choice or pro-life perspective isn’t relevant, The issue lies in realizing that the law puts into effect a contradiction to the First Amendment granting separation of church and state.

The Anti-Defamation League states that, the First Amendment, “free from government control – and without government assistance – religious values, literature, traditions and holidays permeate the lives of our citizens and, in their diverse ways, form an integral part of our national culture. By maintaining the wall separating church and state, we can guarantee the continued vitality of religion in American life.”

The promise of separation of church and state has indeed permeated our educational system and our religious institutions, but seemingly not our family-planning organizations – which is unconstitutional.

Sarah Stoesz, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, called the bill an “egregious violation of the Constitution,” according to a Reuters report.

In addition, Reuters reported that Planned Parenthood said it would sue South Dakota if Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the abortion bill. Those Planned Parenthoods as of today haven’t made any available statements at this time as to what they plan on doing.

The South Dakota law isn’t the only law placing women’s rights in a contentious place in national politics. In a New York Times editorial, published on Feb. 25, the editorial staff argue, “The egregious cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support for Title X, the federal family planning program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings and testing for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the absence of Title X’s preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health, says a rise in unintended pregnancies would result in some 400,000 more abortions a year.”

It may prove true that a chop in funding may work against the GOP’s motives.

In South Dakota, according to, there are 58 abortions for every 1,000 births, one of the lowest rates in the U.S. There are three clinics which perform abortions – Sioux Falls Clinic, Mountain Country Women’s Clinic and Blue Mountain Clinic, according to Last year the state performed around 800 abortions.

“I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives,” the Republican governor said in a March 22 statement. “I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.”

According to a press release from the Governor of South Dakota’s office Gov. Daugaard signed House Bill 1217 on March 22 as an Act to, “establish certain legislative findings pertaining to the decision of a pregnant mother considering termination of her relationship with her child by an abortion, to establish certain procedures to better insure that such decisions are voluntary, uncoerced, and informed, and to revise certain causes of action for professional negligence relating to performance of an abortion.”

Resulting in a blend of irony the word “uncoerced” undermines exactly what the new legislation plans to do. Coerced is exactly how women will determine whether or not to keep the fetus, rather than making individual decisions, not swayed by a government promoting a stance on public policy that’s tied to a religious affiliation.

Not everyone in state legislature agrees with the new law. Peggy Gibson, a Democratic state representative for South Dakota who voted against the law, said in the New York Times article mentioned above that the law is a “government intrusion into people’s medical decisions.”

According to the Governor’s Office press release, “Gov. Daugaard conferred on the legislation with South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, whose office is responsible for defending the law against any challenge in court.”

In the March 22 press release Dauugard said, “I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives.”

In a state that carries through with approximately 800 abortions, one of the lowest rates in the county, the encouragement of considering other options is also problematic. The word encouragement is a misrepresentation of what the new law aims to do. The law aims to persuade women through multiple methods to not carry through with an abortion, whether willingly conceived or in rape cases, in tandem with the states aim to lower abortion procedures.

What hasn’t been answered in the media and in U.S. politics is, what are we overlooking when it comes to the issue of abortion in the United States? Are we looking at the statistics of unemployment and inflation that make it hard for instance for a single women to raise a child, that perhaps she wasn’t planning on having, possibly only created by force-able means? Are we looking at how we fund education in support of women’s reproductive education and protection? It is the truth that instead of taxing abortions and mandating unconstitutional laws on women’s bodies and decision-making processes, that we instead place stricter laws on domestic violence, possibly harsher punishments for rape and properly educate young women about sexual health. It is then possible that Republicans wouldn’t have to try and chop their budget by hurting those who need assistance the most.

Simply stated, as a woman, the largest issue out there is the fact that most of this legislation is being passed by old white men. Since when are old white-haired men (other than doctors) allowed to suggest and mandate what exactly women should do involving reproductive health? Unless you are the father of a baby, who might face abortion if decided, I do not believe men in politics should not have a go when proposing reproductive laws.

And if you are a U.S. Representative, and you in fact have not experienced passing a watermelon through your lemon hole, you have no right to change constitutional laws in an effort to make them fit your deficit hacking in the wrong places – private, reproductive places.

Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “South Dakota violating women’s rights”

  1. Stacey Burns on April 1st, 2011 11:53 am

    I’m glad to see this column and agree with your stance over all, but want to correct a couple of factual errors:

    First, the situation is even more dire than you describe: there is only ONE clinic in South Dakota that provides abortion care–the Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls. This means that women in Rapid City, the second most populous town in South Dakota, have a 12-hour round trip drive to the clinic (and the ones in neighboring Montana and Wyoming are no closer.) Second, this is a poor choice of a photo: it pictures the unethical clinic in Philadelphia that was closed down earlier this year.


If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.