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South Dakota Bill a ‘Backdoor’ Attempt to Ban Abortions Near 20 Weeks

Teddy Wilson

A bill introduced in the South Dakota house would restrict abortion services in the state by targeting second-trimester abortions with never-before-used legislative language.

A bill introduced in the South Dakota house would restrict abortion services in the state by targeting second-trimester abortions with never-before-used legislative language.

HB 1241 would make illegal any abortion performed in which a “living” fetus is “dismembered” during the procedure—an apparent reference to dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, which may be used in a second-trimester abortion. A D and E is often used when it is the safest means of preserving the life, health, and perhaps future fertility of the woman. The bill could, in practice, have the effect of banning all surgical abortions in the state.

If a doctor violated the law, it would be considered a Class 2 felony, with a maximum sentence of 25 years’ imprisonment and $50,000 in fines. Another provision allows for a violation to be considered a Class B felony, which carries a possible life sentence.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Tea), told the Argus Leader that the legislation “just makes clear that a certain procedure that is totally horrific and gruesome to any reasonable person would not be an acceptable method of ending a child’s life, and that is to dismember or decapitate a living, unborn child.” 

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Abbie Peterson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, told Rewire that the bill is another attempt to further restrict access to abortion. Peterson noted that the language targets later abortions, which have been the targets of 20-week bans that are being struck down by the courts. “This is just a backdoor attempt to ban later-term abortion care,” said Peterson.

“This is a poorly drafted, inflammatory attack on a woman’s ability to make a decision about her pregnancy in consultation with her family, her doctor and her faith,” said Connie Lewis, vice president for external affairs of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

“South Dakota is already one of the most restrictive states for women’s health in the country,” said Lewis, noting that state voters have already twice rejected ballot measures that would have banned nearly all legal abortions in the state. Now, “politicians have introduced yet another bill that could do just that,” she said.

Laws already on the books severely restrict access to abortion and impose unnecessary regulations on providers in the state. Many of the restrictions in place were resoundingly rejected by voters in the state and passed anyway by the legislature.

Currently there is only one clinic in the state that provides abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of South Dakota counties have no abortion clinic, and 77 percent of South Dakota women live in these counties. 

The legislation currently has 17 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Correction: A version of this article noted that South Dakota voters had twice rejected anti-abortion constitutional amendments; in fact, citizens have voted twice against anti-abortion ballot measures. We regret the error.

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