PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Republican senators on Monday advanced a proposal from Gov. Kristi Noem that aims to make the state one of the hardest places to get abortion pills, though its actual enactment depends on a federal court ruling.
Every Republican on the Senate Health and Human Services committee voted to advance the bill for a vote in the full chamber, even as one GOP lawmaker cautioned the Legislature on getting involved in the practice of medicine. The lone Democrat on the committee opposed it.
Shortly after the decision to advance the bill to the Senate floor where a vote has not yet been scheduled, the same committee unanimously rejected a separate proposal, brought by Noem’s Republican primary challenger Rep. Steve Haugaard, to ban use of the drugs for abortions altogether.
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The Supreme Court’s willingness to consider striking down Roe v. Wade — the 1973 landmark decision that established the nationwide right to an abortion — has prompted a flurry of legislation in statehouses this year.
South Dakota’s politicians have taken aim at abortion pills after the Food and Drug Administration last year removed a major obstacle for women seeking the pills by eliminating a long-standing requirement that they pick up the medication in person.
Noem’s bill would require women seeking an abortion to make three separate trips to a doctor in order to take abortion pills. Women in South Dakota are currently required to visit an abortion clinic for an initial screening and then wait 72 hours before returning. At the second visit, they get both drugs in the two-dose regimen and take the second dose at home.
But so far, more restrictions on the pills, which are used for roughly 40% of abortions in the state, have been checked — either through federal courts or concerns in the Republican-controlled Legislature that an all-out ban would affect health care beyond abortions.
When Noem tried to implement a similar restriction through a state rule last year, Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s only clinic that regularly provides abortion services, sued the state. It argued the rule was an unconstitutional violation of abortion rights and would have made it practically impossible for the clinic to provide any medicine-induced abortions.
A federal judge last month halted that rule from being enacted, but Noem has appealed the decision.
In the meantime, her administration has pushed the bill, though with a clause that stipulates most of it wouldn’t take effect unless the court battle is resolved in the state’s favor. The bill also seeks to boost the penalty for any medical practitioner who prescribes abortion pills beyond what is allowd in law to a felony punishable by two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.
The Senate vote is the last hurdle Noem’s proposal faces in the Legislature.
She has argued she brought the bill out of concern for women’s safety.
“What we have seen is that those medicines could be accessed by telephone or the internet between a stranger and someone who is wanting an abortion,” the governor said at a news conference last week.
The FDA last year found a scientific review supported broadening access and doing away with the requirement they be picked up in person.
Some Republican lawmakers have also sounded caution on politicians stepping into the domain of writing laws on specific drugs, even if they are supportive of restrictions on abortion access.
“This bill put us in a quandary,” Republican Sen. Blake Curd said before voting to advance it.
“It causes me concern when we dictate how medicine is practiced and put that into statute,” Curd, who is also a surgeon, added.
Meanwhile, the potential medical implications of Haugaard’s bill proved to be too much for Curd and other members of the Senate committee. The state’s medical association and doctors raised concerns that it would limit the drugs for other procedures like miscarriage treatment.
Haugaard cast the bill as focused on “the idea that life is important at every stage of the pregnancy,” and added language that stipulated it would only apply to abortions.
Senators were not convinced.
“I’m not saying it’s OK for abortion by opposing this bill,” said Republican Sen. Erin Tobin, a nurse practitioner. “But what I’m saying is that these are very medically complex decisions and women have a right to receive health care.”
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