We may have a draw this week in the latest battle for abortion rights. A federal court has overturned a lower court's decision, finding that South Dakota can mandate that women seeking abortions be told they have a relationship with their fetus. Yet, since the ruling also said doctors can't tell women abortion increases their suicide risk, the decision is being claimed as a victory for those on both sides of the abortion debate.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier that struck down part of the state's larger "informed consent" law. According to the Associated Press, the court found that doctors can be required to tell a patient who wants an abortion that she, "has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota."
Schreier, who recently put a temporary block on another law that would have instituted a 72-hour abortion waiting period in the state, forced women to visit crisis pregnancy centers, and required doctors discuss abortion complications, had argued that the wording was misleading because legally, relationships only exist between people, and a fetus is not a person. Despite this point, he federal court says South Dakota can require doctors to tell women that the procedure will "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," because the statement, "conveys legal information that is truthful, not misleading, and relevant to the abortion decision."
The court did uphold Schreier's decision that doctors shouldn't have to tell women that there is an increased risk of suicide after abortion, because there's no proof that this is true. Planned Parenthood, which runs the state's only abortion clinic, said the ruling means that doctors only have to tell patients that they have an "existing relationship" with the fetus. Planned Parenthood attorney Mimi Liu told Reuters, "We think this decision can be read to say that is all that is required." Liu said she expects the decision to influence the organization's case against the new abortion restrictions passed this year. She said:
"The bottom line is that Planned Parenthood has a duty and has always been compliant to ensure that women are voluntarily seeking an abortion and making a decision to have an abortion, and are fully informed about the decision."
However, the ruling is still concerning. South Dakota had the first, and most expansive "informed consent" law, which was later imitated by several other states. Anti-abortion activist Leslee Unruh praised the decision on the "existing relationship" wording as "monumental," adding:
"We are thrilled beyond words. This has been a very long and coming victory for us. We are so happy about this ruling. It just shows the tide has turned in this country and we need to protect unborn children, as well as the women in making that decision."
Of course, abortion opponents like Unruh believe the best way to "protect" women is to make a decision for them.
Image via Alexander Raths/Shutterstock.