Ruling Gives South Dakota Doctors a Script to Read

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008

CHICAGO -- In a victory for antiabortion forces, doctors in South Dakota are now required to tell a woman seeking an abortion that the procedure "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit last week lifted a preliminary injunction that prevented the language from taking effect. A spokesman for Planned Parenthood, which runs the state's only abortion clinic, said doctors will begin reciting the script to patients as early as this week.

On another front, South Dakota voters will be asked in a Nov. 4 referendum to consider broad limits on abortion for the second time since 2006. The ballot measure includes exceptions for rape, incest and the woman's health that were not part of the 2006 wording rejected by voters.

Antiabortion forces in South Dakota have been trying for years to halt the procedure and to build a winnable challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

A law that took effect July 1 requires doctors to ask a woman seeking an abortion if she wants to see a sonogram of the fetus. About 700 abortions are performed in South Dakota each year.

The doctors' script that officially took effect Friday has been tied up in court since 2005, when Planned Parenthood challenged a law that instructed physicians what to tell abortion patients. Under the law, doctors must say that the woman has "an existing relationship" with the fetus that is protected by the U.S. Constitution and that "her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated." Also, the doctor is required to say that "abortion increases the risk of suicide ideation and suicide."

The message must be delivered no earlier than two hours before the procedure. The woman must say in writing that she understands.

"The law is one more terrible, terrible barrier," said Sarah Stoesz, president of the regional Planned Parenthood office. She described the rules as "unprecedented interference in the doctor-patient relationship and unprecedented interference in a woman's life."

Stoesz also called the impetus for the law "ideological" and "non-science-based."

Mailee Smith, staff counsel at Chicago-based Americans United for Life, praised the regulations. "We do think it's a good law, because it does provide a woman with the broadest spectrum of information," she said.

While 32 states have informed consent regulations, Smith said, South Dakota alone includes the reference to a fetus as "a whole, separate, unique living human being."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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