U.S. News

Federal judge blocks South Dakota abortion law

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday blocked a new South Dakota abortion law requiring the longest waiting period in the nation at 72-hours and a meeting at an anti-abortion counseling center before a woman can have the procedure.

The ruling on the South Dakota law, which was to take effect Friday, came as two Kansas City-area clinics prepared to asked another federal judge on Friday to allow them to continue performing abortions in the face of new state laws.

The South Dakota law, signed by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, also requires a doctor to certify that the pregnant woman has not been coerced into having an abortion and that the potential complications of an abortion have been explained.

Planned Parenthood, which operates the only center that performs abortions in South Dakota, sued to block the law and called the ruling a “decisive victory.”

“This law represents a blatant intrusion by politicians into difficult decisions women and families sometimes need to make,” said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

Daugaard said the decision was not a surprise.

“I believe everyone agrees -- no matter what their stance on abortion -- that it’s a laudable goal to reduce abortions by encouraging consideration of other alternatives,” Daugaard said in a statement.

In a 61-page opinion granting the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Karen Schreier found Planned Parenthood’s challenge of the counseling centers and waiting period would likely succeed.

The help center requirements “constitute a substantial obstacle to a woman’s decision to obtain an abortion because they force a woman against her will to disclose her decision to undergo an abortion to a pregnancy help center employee before she can undergo an abortion,” Schreier wrote.

The three-day waiting period also effectively forces a woman to make two trips to the one available clinic and potentially wait a month between visits, she found.

Schreier also noted that no other state has laws that require similar waiting periods, a required counseling session at a “pregnancy help center” or for a doctor to certify that a woman has not been coerced.

South Dakota has been at the center of some of the most bitter recent fights over abortion, which was legalized in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

State lawmakers passed laws in 2006 and 2008 to ban most abortions unless they were necessary to save a woman’s life. Voters later overturned both bans.

The South Dakota law is one of many abortion curbs pushed by conservative lawmakers in dozens of states this year. Other proposals included bans on late-term abortions and requirements that providers offer women sonograms of their fetuses.

In Indiana, lawmakers sought to strip government funding from Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions. The law signed by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels in May was struck down last week by a judge. Indiana is appealing that decision.

On Friday, two clinics refused licenses by the Kansas state health department -- the Center for Women’s Health and Aid for Women -- will ask a federal judge to block the state of Kansas from enforcing new licensing requirements.

The Republican-dominated Kansas legislature passed a law setting out tough requirements for operating a clinic performing abortions and Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed the law.

The clinics are asking U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia to find the new rules to be unreasonable and imposed on unfairly short notice.

Cheryl Pilate, a lawyer representing Aid to Women, said Thursday the new laws onerous and then imposed an impossible time line.

“It’s really a catch-22,” Pilate said. “It’s a set-up for failure. The unreasonableness of this is pretty clear.”

The third clinic in Kansas, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, was notified Thursday afternoon that it had met regulations and will get its license, officials said. It had been prepared to seek an injunction if it were denied.

Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Greg McCune