Judge Blocks South Dakota’s Abortion Counseling Law

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On Thursday, a federal judge blocked a South Dakota measure that would have forced women to visit a counseling center and wait 72 hours before obtaining an abortion.

The law, set to take effect on Friday, required women to visit a so-called “crisis pregnancy center”—which are often run by religious and anti-abortion groups—before having an abortion. It also imposed the longest mandatory waiting period in the country. Judge Karen Schreier of the US District Court in South Dakota granted a preliminary injunction sought by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, ruling that the law is likely be found unconstitutional.

The law inspired outrage from abortion rights advocates, who note that crisis pregnancy centers are unregulated, frequently staffed by unqualified volunteers, have been found to provide false information, and often exist for the sole purpose of discouraging women from going forward with an abortion. The text of the law passed in South Dakota didn’t really hide that goal, stating that the aim of the measure was to help women “maintain and keep their relationship with their unborn children.”

Schreier wrote in the decision:

Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help center the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being. The woman will feel degraded by the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Center requirements, which suggest that she has made the ‘wrong’ decision, has not really ‘thought’ about her decision to undergo an abortion, or is ‘not intelligent enough’ to make the decision with the advice of a physician. Furthermore, these women are forced into a hostile environment.

In a state like South Dakota, the 72-hour waiting period would have presented an even bigger logistical barrier. There’s only one abortion provider in the state, and a woman could have to drive up to six hours to reach the clinic.

Mimi Liu, a Planned Parenthood attorney who argued the case in court, said in a statement Thursday evening: “We are happy and relieved for our patients that the court’s decision today means they will not have to suffer through these outrageous and demeaning requirements.”

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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