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Surprise: South Dakota Republicans Reject Abortion Ban

Nicole Knight

Reproductive rights advocates told Rewire that South Dakota lawmakers were likely deterred by the prospect of expensive litigation.

A panel of Republicans in South Dakota, a state with some of the nation’s most stringent restrictions on abortion care, on Tuesday voted down a ban on the most common type of second-trimester abortion procedure.

The South Dakota House Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 6 to shelve legislation targeting dilation and evacuation (D and E), a procedure that accounts for an estimated 95 percent of abortion procedures after the first trimester, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The D and E procedure is also used after miscarriages.

Six Republicans joined a single Democrat to table HB 189 after the bill’s author, state Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Tea), introduced a last-minute amendment. The amendment, as Latterell described it in committee, would have required abortion clinics to report to the state that they’re complying with South Dakota’s “informed consent” laws—saddling providers with a new layer of bureaucracy.

“We don’t know how or if Planned Parenthood is complying with our informed consent disclosures,” said Latterell, citing a series of discredited Planned Parenthood smear videos shot by activists from an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP lawmakers.

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South Dakota has one Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls. South Dakota’s “informed consent” laws require patients to be informed that medication abortion is reversible— it’s not—and that life begins at conception, among other provisions.

Committee members voted to shelve the bill with no discussion. Latterell tried and failed to outlaw dilation and evacuation in 2014. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers the D and E procedure “evidence-based and medically preferred because it results in the fewest complications for women compared to alternative procedures.”

Reproductive rights advocates told Rewire that lawmakers were likely deterred by the prospect of expensive litigation.

“Our legal position was incredibly strong to say, if you pass this bill you are going to get sued and you are going to lose,” Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, told Rewire.

Legislators in Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas have tried to outlaw D and E using a legislative playbook from the anti-choice legislation mill known as the National Right to Life Committee. Four of those laws are now tied up in court.

South Dakota might be particularly sensitive to pricy litigation given its history. The state faced a $170,000 legal tab in 2014 for defending a law that forced doctors to falsely say abortion care is linked to suicide, among other provisions. The state attorney general estimated that defending that law could cost upwards of $4 million.

“I think that put us in a good position to argue against the bill,” Skarin said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s about them being sick of restricting abortion, I think there will always be an appetite for that here. But I think they have regulated abortion so much in this state that now what’s left to regulate is incredibly problematic—so that is working against them.”

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