The Corner

A Pro-life Victory in South Dakota

Pro-lifers received good news this Tuesday when the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a provision of South Dakota’s informed-consent law requiring that women be told that there is an increased risk of suicide following abortion. Many mainstream-media outlets are criticizing this decision arguing that there is little evidence linking abortion to a higher risk of suicide.  However, an amicus brief submitted by Americans United for Life cited five peer-reviewed studies which show that abortion leads to an increased risk of suicide. In fact, the case might be stronger than the court realized. A 2012 study in the journal Economic Inquiry showed statistically significant declines in female teen suicide rates after pro-life parental involvement laws took effect.

Informed consent laws have their roots in the 1970s. Many of the original informed consent laws simply stated that the woman had to give her “informed consent” prior to the abortion. Others required that the abortion provider give the approximate gestational age of the unborn child.   During the 1980s many states began to update their informed consent laws by requiring that women be shown color photos of fetal development, and mandating that information be provided about public and private sources of support for single mothers and potential health risks involved with abortion.

This generation of informed consent laws was more controversial and many of these laws went unenforced due to various legal challenges. It was not until the Supreme Court’s 1992  Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that state-level informed consent laws received constitutional protection. Since that time, over 20 states have enacted Casey style informed consent laws which feature color photos of fetal development. Many states have also updated their informed consent laws. Six informed consent laws provide information about the abortion breast-cancer link. Seven informed consent laws, including South Dakota’s, include information about negative mental health risks. Twenty-three state laws give women seeking an abortion the ability to see an ultrasound beforehand.

The South Dakota informed-consent law is the first to require that women receive information about a greater risk of suicide. The effectiveness of this law remains to be seen. The latest research on informed-consent laws shows the most effective laws appear to be those that raise the costs of the abortion — by requiring two separate visits to the abortion clinic. That having been said, the fact that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the South Dakota law is evidence of the good work pro-lifers have done over the past several years documenting the health risks of abortion

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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