Sarah Stoesz: In South Dakota, a blow to abortion rights

  • Article by: SARAH STOESZ
  • Updated: July 1, 2008 - 6:29 PM

Ruling forces doctors to deliver an ideological message to their patients -- and antichoice activists won't stop there.

Last Friday, in a week dominated by news of the Supreme Court's historic Second Amendment ruling, the Eighth Circuit Court quietly released an opinion that is unprecedented in scope and unmatched in its intrusion on First Amendment rights.

The ruling in Planned Parenthood vs. Rounds forces doctors in South Dakota to tell patients seeking abortion that it will "terminate the life of a whole, separate, distinct, living human being."

Planned Parenthood challenged the 2005 law because it violated the constitutional rights of doctors and patients by forcing doctors to give ideologically charged, nonscientific and inaccurate messages to their patients.

As the primary abortion provider in South Dakota, Planned Parenthood knows all too well the political, geographical and cultural obstacles women already must overcome to access abortion care. The Eighth Circuit Court ruling has erected an additional barrier.

South Dakota has the strictest laws in the country regulating abortion and has one of the lowest rates of abortion in the United States. Still, politicians and special-interest groups continue to insist on placing themselves squarely between doctors and patients, interfering in this very difficult, personal decision best left to a woman and her family.

The same activists who created the law that sparked the Eighth Circuit case and who unsuccessfully attempted to ban abortion in 2006 are again working vigorously to overturn Roe vs. Wade by putting an abortion ban before the people of South Dakota in the form of a ballot initiative this November. The assault on the personal decisions of women and families has found fertile ground in South Dakota and is unrelentingly cultivated by national antichoice activists.

It is and has always been important to Planned Parenthood that women facing an unplanned pregnancy receive information about all of their options, including adoption, and that they have the time to reflect and consult with others whom they trust before they make a decision about the profoundly personal matter of abortion. If at the end of that process a woman still believes ending a pregnancy is the right decision given her family's circumstances, it doesn't make sense for the government to interfere.

Last week's ruling is a stark reminder that we need to focus attention on what's happening in South Dakota. That state has been chosen by national interest groups to be the incubator of an egregious assault on the health and safety of women. This should serve as a wake-up call to men and women all across our region and the country.

Sarah Stoesz is CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

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