The South Dakota Health and Human Services Committee voted 11-2, along party lines, to approve HB 1230. But when presented to the full house, state lawmakers baulked at voting on the bill. Instead, they voted 65-3 to approve an amendment introduced by Rep. Burt Tulson (R-Lake Norden) that erased the entirety of the original bill.
The original legislation was replaced with the innocuous phrase, “State of South Dakota recognizes the sanctity of human life.”
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Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Tea) this month introduced HB 1230. The original language of the bill would have made it illegal for any physician to “knowingly behead a living unborn child with the intent of endangering the life or health of the child.” Latterell is a staunch anti-choice legislator who, in a blog post published on his website, charged that Planned Parenthood is “worse than ISIS and lying about it.”
The bill repackaged legislative language from a controversial bill he introduced last year. The original bill targeted dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures, often used in second-trimester abortions as well as in treatment of miscarriage.
[T]he D and E procedure is used in nearly all second-trimester abortions in the United States: about 140,000 a year. If D and E were to be banned, women would have only labor induction or hysterotomy (a mini-cesarean section) as options for second-trimester abortions. These archaic methods were largely abandoned decades ago in the United States.
Under Latterell’s proposal, physicians who perform the procedure would be committing a Class 1 felony and face 50 years’ imprisonment.
Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told Rewire that the bill appeared to be primarily a political move to gin up the state’s ultra-conservative base. “The bill is provocative,” Nash said. “It is designed to put abortion rights supporters on the defensive.”
“The language is unclear. What would this bill really do? No one has a good answer for that,” Nash said. “Supporters talk about D and E abortion when describing the bill, but the legislation itself does not use that term.”
During his testimony at the Health and Human Services Committee hearing, Latterell compared the use of the D and E procedure to grisly methods of execution, such as beheadings used by “unconscionably violent soldiers” in the Middle East.
“It’s unfortunate that in our state Planned Parenthood abortionists in Sioux Falls are [similarly] beheading unborn children during dismemberment abortions,” Latterell said during the hearing.
Jennifer Aulwes, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Sioux Falls—the only abortion provider left in the state—told Rewire that Latterell’s rhetoric was “inflammatory and completely irresponsible.”
Aulwes said the clinic does not provide D and E procedures; the clinic only provides medication abortions up to nine weeks and surgical abortions up to 13 weeks. All clinic patients who need D and E services are referred to clinics in other states. As such, the bill would not affect the Sioux Falls clinic.
“But what it does affect is the women in South Dakota who find themselves later in pregnancy needing to consider abortion as an option, and in those circumstances a woman and her doctor really need every option available to them,” Aulwes said.
Latterell points to South Dakota Department of Health records showing that, since 2008, there have been a handful of reported D and E procedures performed in the state. “Considering that they’re the only clinic in the state that does abortions, I think it’s clear that there is a severe discrepancy and perhaps misleading going on,” Latterell said during the hearing.
Latterell was more pointed with his criticism in his blog post, writing that Planned Parenthood was “lying either to the media or to the department of health.”
A review by Rewire of Department of Health reports from 2008 through 2013 found that reports from 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013 all reported that D and E procedures were used for less than 1 percent of induced abortions in the state; reports from 2011 and 2012 made no reference to the procedure. While the specific numbers of D and E procedures are not listed, the percentages suggest that at most, seven abortions occurred during that time period that used the D and E procedure.
The reports do not list the locations where the abortions were performed.
Though none of the state’s hospitals offer elective abortion care, hospitals can perform abortions, including D and E procedures, in South Dakota. Under current state law, any abortion that takes place between 12 and 24 weeks of pregnancy must be “performed in a hospital, or if one is not available, in a licensed physician’s medical clinic or office” that meets specific medical requirements.
Latterell was “either confused about what is being reported to the legislature, or he is willfully misinterpreting it,” Aulwes said.
It seems likely, Aulwes said, that the small number of abortions that occurred in specific circumstances that used D and E procedures took place in hospitals. “We can only assume that the abortions that were performed later in pregnancy that were reported were performed by doctors in a hospital setting or in an emergency room setting,” she said.
The South Dakota Department of Health did not return a request for clarification on the reports by the time of publication.
Latterell also did not respond to an email requesting comment on this story.
Though the legislation that was gutted by the South Dakota house would not directly affect the care that Planned Parenthood Sioux Falls provides, Aulwes said its mere proposal created an atmosphere of uncertainty around what types of reproductive health care are available to South Dakota women.
“Each time a law passes, or each time there’s new litigation, we will have women calling the clinic asking if we’re still open or if we’re closed,” she said.