Here's a rare spot of good news in the state-by-state abortion battle: A U.S. district court judge has temporarily blocked South Dakota's new abortion law, which would have gone into effect today with a 72-hour waiting period and a forced visit to a crisis pregnancy center.
The three-day waiting period would have been the longest in the nation, and although some states keep trying to outdo each other on the anti-choice front, making women visit "counselors" whose goal it is to talk them out of abortions was also a new low. Chief Judge Karen Schreier (a Clinton appointee) agreed with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU that the law put an undue burden on women seeking abortions, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and found that the law violated women's free speech rights by forcing them to discuss their decision with a non-medical third party — and a religious one at that.
The law would have also required physicians to discuss "complications associated with abortion," which the judge said was based on discredited information, and to ensure that the woman had not been coerced, which the judge said was unconstitutionally vague.
Whereas South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard had said paternalistically of the law he signed, "I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices," Schreier's decision was marked by feminist language:
"Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help center the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being. The woman will feel degraded by the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Center requirements, which suggest that she has made the 'wrong' decision, has not really 'thought' about her decision to undergo an abortion, or is 'not intelligent enough' to make the decision with the advice of a physician. Furthermore, these women are forced into a hostile environment."
Tragicomically, the state's lawyers had argued that the woman could just not tell the counselors anything on the visit. "Defendants offer no explanation on how an interview 'to discuss her circumstances' could be done without the pregnant woman actually disclosing 'her circumstances,'" wrote Schreier skeptically.
She even cited reproductive coercion — abusive men forcing their partners to be pregnant, and not the coerced abortions anti-choicers are obsessed with — as a reason that the 72-hour waiting period put an undue burden on women, because they would have to hide two visits from a partner.
The CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota also used the language of coercion — this time by the state: "We trust women and families in South Dakota to know and do what is best for them, without being coerced by the government. And we stand with them in our efforts to overturn this outrageous law."
Anti-choice activist Leslie Unruh said her Alpha Center would try to intervene on the state's behalf, with "evidence from the women who told South Dakota legislators that they'd been coerced into having abortions and that Planned Parenthood failed to learn that before going ahead with the procedure." Planned Parenthood indicated that they would fight that.
The South Dakota attorney general said he was still evaluating the state's options.