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Judge Blocks South Dakota's Unnecessary Abortion Ban

A federal judge said Gov. Kristi Noem's ban on common medical abortion procedures made "a substantial obstacle" for people seeking care.

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A small bright spot in the world of abortion care was announced on Wednesday when a federal judge temporarily blocked a South Dakota executive order that made it even harder to get a medication abortion, which account for nearly half of all abortions in the United States. In September, Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican whose name is tossed around as “future of the GOP” material, issued the executive order restricting abortion medications from being distributed via telemedicine and requiring that they be picked up in person from a doctor’s office.

The ACLU of South Dakota and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit last week to stop the “medically unnecessary restriction.” The temporary restraining order issued by the judge this week will stay in effect until Feb. 9, and a hearing is scheduled for next week.

“From the person living in a rural community hundreds of miles away from the only abortion provider in South Dakota to the patient who wants to access this essential care in the privacy and comfort of their home, this decision comes as a tremendous relief,” Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of South Dakota legal director, said in a statement after the decision was announced. “This decision is critical progress, but when it comes to the right to control one’s own private medical care in South Dakota it’s far from complete.”

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This is just one more step in Noem’s mission to make South Dakota the state with the “strongest pro-life laws in the books.” This week, she announced legislation that would ban most abortions in South Dakota, a state that only has one abortion clinic (a single Planned Parenthood affiliate), and follows a model of the Texas 6-week abortion ban.

South Dakota doesn’t have much more room to give when it comes to accessible abortion. The state already bans abortion after 22 weeks following the patient’s last period at this time and requires a cruel 72-hour waiting period for patients after listening to state-mandated counseling, which doesn’t count the weekends or holidays in those 3 days. If Noem’s September executive order is reinstated, it would mean an abortion patient would have to visit the clinic three times for a procedure that can be done safely at home.