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S.D. Makes Abortion Rare Through Laws And Stigma

Allen Unruh, an abortion opponent, and Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood in South Dakota, listen at a meeting of the state task force on abortion.
Allen Unruh, an abortion opponent, and Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood in South Dakota, listen at a meeting of the state task force on abortion. (Joe Kafka - AP)

On a recent clinic day, 13 women were scheduled for abortions but the waiting room was jammed with more than 30 people -- the patients, spouses, children, parents, friends. Some patients coming from far away had to bring their young children because they could not get child care. Others, such as a 23-year-old woman who drove here in the early morning from Rapid City with her boyfriend, left their children at home and would have to turn right back after their abortion to return to their families.

"I figured I could get the abortion in Rapid City," said the woman, who has a 2-year-old daughter. "And I didn't know it would be so expensive. We had to borrow the money to get here."

The woman was 45 days pregnant, she said, the day she drove 350 miles to take the RU-486 abortion pill and then drive back. "I have to get back home to my daughter," said the woman, who said she was working full time and attending college part time to become a medical administrator. (She and the others interviewed did not want their names in the newspaper.) The woman said she had decided on abortion because "I can't afford another child, and I need to finish school and work to support the one I got." She receives $50 a month in child support and less than $200 a month in food stamps but was deemed ineligible for any further public assistance because of her full-time job.

Another patient, a 29-year-old teacher who became pregnant while using birth control with her boyfriend of a few months, who is also a teacher, said she was not ready for a child and neither was he.

"I'm pro-choice all the way," said the woman, who is from a town about 90 miles from Sioux Falls. She found out she was pregnant at seven weeks and had to wait two weeks for the abortion because the clinic's schedule conflicted with her work schedule.

Looby, whose father is an obstetrician-gynecologist, said she has talked to many doctors in South Dakota who say they have no personal objection to performing abortions but cannot risk their careers and community standing by offering the procedure.

When the Planned Parenthood clinic was built six years ago, architects factored in the hostility that clinics faced. It has no windows in the front of the building, so abortion protesters cannot look in, and the parking lot is in the back, on private property safe from picketers. The glass in the encased reception area is bulletproof. Doors are kept locked, and visitors must present identification to be buzzed inside.

But the loud protests anticipated in the building design have not materialized. Instead, abortion opponents have attempted to get laws passed restricting both abortion providers and those seeking the abortions.

One law passed in South Dakota this year is an informed-consent measure that requires doctors to tell women in writing and in person two hours before an abortion of the medical risks of the procedure and that an abortion ends the life of "a whole, separate, unique living human being." Enforcement of the law has been blocked by a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood.

Another measure is a "trigger law" that automatically bans all abortions in the state should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade .

Leslee Unruh, one of the prime lobbyists for the law that created the abortion task force, said, "I want abortion to end."

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