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South Dakota Abortion Ban Undergoes Changes

Attorney General introduces new language to help defend the bill




Some noteworthy changes were introduced to the proposed South Dakota abortion ban today.

Testifying before the House State Affairs committee in support of the ban, HB 1293, were Rep. Gordon Howe (R-Rapid City), Aberdeen attorney Rory King, OB-GYN Dr. Patti Giebink of Chamberlain, pediatrician and neonatologist Dr. Dennis Stevens of Sioux Falls, counselor Dianne Heynen, and South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long.

Testifying against the ban were Rapid City OB-GYN Dr. Marvin Buehner, USD Medical Center emergency physician Dr. Mary Helen Harris, Health Education Resource Center director Charon Asetoyer of Lake Andes, Suzan Nolan of Rapid City, Connie Pich of Rapid City, South Dakota State Medical Association lobbyist Dave Gerdes, Nancy Phipps, and April Tobin of Del Rapids. The House State Affairs committee adopted an amendment that changes the name of HB 1293 from "Women's Health and Human Life Protection" to "Prevention of Abortion as Birth Control".

The "hoghouse" change, which essentially guts the original bill and replaces the language with something new, was done by the South Dakota Attorney General to make the bill more defensible against court challenge.

The first important change in the attorney general's version is that, if passed by the legislature, it will go directly to a vote of the people of South Dakota in the 2008 election.

Some of the language was changed to be more consistent with language used in other, existing South Dakota law. Attorney General Long testified at the committee this morning that in Section 2, there had been two definitions for abortion, but one had been eliminated.

The health exception was changed to remove the clause: "which is likely to cause a very significant impairment of the quality of the mother's life." It also removes the requirement in the original HB 1293 that a second physician agree with the health risk.

The rape and incest exceptions had been listed separately in the original bill, with slight differences in the requirements for each exception. In the amended version, they have been combined and have the same requirements. The main change in this regard is that the requirement for the woman to have reported the rape to law enforcement authorities is removed. The abortionists is, however, required to report the rape to law enforcement before the abortion can proceed. The restriction to 17 weeks gestation or below for an abortion for rape or incest has been changed to "before the date of viability, as determined in the physician's good faith clinical judgment."

A new requirement, found in Section 3, is that each abortion facility "shall have a written policy on reporting rape and aggravated incest."

The bill was passed as amended by the State Affairs committee by a 10-3 vote. The date for a vote of the full House has not yet been determined.

After the vote, Committee Chairman Rep. Larry Rhoden of Union Center closed the discussion of HB 1293 by stating that while he had some reservations about whether this was "the right bill," that his position on abortion (that abortion is wrong) has not changed and that the legislature should move forward with this issue.

Rhoden also expressed his displeasure with those who opposed last year's bill because of the lack of exceptions for rape and incest, yet oppose this bill which specifically makes exceptions for these instances.

"I believe it's extremely disingenuous," Rhoden said. "Almost to the point of laughable, after last year and all the rhetoric and debate centered specifically around the lack of exceptions for rape and incest, that virtually 99% of what we heard centered around that fact. And the people that testified today in opposition, virtually all their testimony against 1215 was centered around the lack of exceptions. So now we clearly add the exceptions into this bill, and it's a moving target. We tried to nail that jello to the wall and it moved on us. So now we've come full circle."

Rhoden said he agreed with taking the bill to a vote of the people. "I think the only way to move forward with this is to put it in the form of a referred measure, and let the voters sort it out."

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