In South Dakota, a federal judge has struck down a statute requiring women to obtain counseling about abortion alternatives prior to having an abortion.
U.S. district judge Karen Schreier, who issued a temporary injunction against the policy, first blocked this same statute ten years ago, after a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood. This time around — as the state sought relief from Schreier’s initial injunction — the judge reiterated her previous decision, asserting that not enough has changed over the intervening decade to alter her prior ruling.
Shreier insisted that the policy “continues to likely infringe on women’s right to free speech secured in the First Amendment, and it presents an undue burden on a woman’s right to access abortion.”
“A pregnancy help center counselor enters an interview with a pregnant woman under the paternalistic assumption that the woman has not yet decided to seek an abortion of her own volition,” Shreier added, “but rather because she is unable to make a decision on her own and is subject to societal pressures.”
South Dakota will appeal the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Given that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide on the constitutionality of prohibiting abortion before ‘viability,’ we are asking the Eighth Circuit to recognize that the people’s legislators should have the ability to pass pro-life laws,” the office of Republican governor Kristi Noem said in a statement responding to Schreier’s ruling.
Since becoming governor, Noem has backed the South Dakota legislature in its pro-life policy-making goals, the most recent of which was a law prohibiting doctors from knowingly performing an abortion chosen on the basis of an unborn child’s Down-syndrome diagnosis.
Pro-life lawmakers have defended the counseling policy since its initial enactment, arguing that it’s important to ensure that women aren’t obtaining an abortion under duress, especially in the form of coercion from a partner or others — a situation that does occur, though hard statistics on the subject are difficult to find due to the general lack of abortion-reporting requirements.
Planned Parenthood, which filed the initial challenge to South Dakota’s law in 2011, sounded much like Shreier in their legal argument, asserting that counseling requirements are an unconstitutional limitation on a woman’s right to abortion.
Opposition to informed consent is a common refrain from abortion providers and supposedly “pro-choice” advocacy groups, which routinely challenge policies requiring women to obtain counseling or additional information prior to choosing abortion.
Earlier this month, for instance, Planned Parenthood sued the state of Montana over several new pro-life laws, including an informed-consent statute that requires abortion providers to divulge the steps involved in a chemical abortion, possible medical risks and complications, and information about a safe procedure that can reverse the effects of chemical-abortion drugs.
In its lawsuit against Montana, Planned Parenthood described this as “false and medically unsupported information” and said the law amounts to “biased counseling [that] attempts to scare women out of having” an abortion. This argument is not especially surprising coming from an abortion provider that regularly challenges state laws requiring doctors to give women the option of viewing an ultrasound of their unborn child prior to having an abortion.
Abortion advocates would have us believe, on the one hand, that they’re “pro-choice” rather than pro-abortion, insisting that deciding whether or not to have an abortion is one of the most difficult and momentous life choices a woman will ever make. But at the same time, they march into court time and again, arguing that it violates women’s rights to tell them about the details and risks of abortion or to give them a chance to consider alternatives. Without accurate information and with the possibility of coercion, it isn’t much of a choice at all.