You may have heard, a week or two ago, about a bill in South Dakota which would have paved the way for defensible murder of abortion doctors under the state's "justifiable homicide" laws. That got shelved -- sponsors said, "Oops, we didn't actually mean you could go kill abortion doctors, sorry" -- but now there's another bill making its insidious way through the state's legislature. This one, House Bill 1217, would require women to get counseling at a "pregnancy help center" before they could even meet with a doctor for a consultation, to then schedule an abortion.
Here's why so many people are concerned about this. Those "pregnancy help centers" are not medical facilities at all. They are religious-based organizations, typically funded by local church groups, which specifically focus on encouraging women not to have abortions. I guarantee you that if I, as a Pagan woman, were to attend a "counseling session" at one of these places, there would not be anyone working there who was qualified to counsel me in matters spiritual. Instead, I would be forced to listen to a sermon, and -- if I was young, scared and naive -- probably bullied into not following through with my original decision.
It's important to note that the bill is worded in a way that specifically excludes facilities such as Planned Parenthood. It reads, in part, that the centers women are referred to for "counseling" must be a place that "routinely consults with women for the purpose of helping them keep their relationship with their unborn children... that they do not perform abortions at their facility, and have no affiliation with any organization or physician which performs abortions; That they do not now refer pregnant women for abortions, and have not referred any pregnant women for an abortion at any time in the three years immediately preceding July 1, 2011; That they have a medical director licensed by South Dakota to practice medicine or that they have a collaborative agreement with a physician licensed in South Dakota to practice medicine to whom women can be referred."
In other words, by the very phrasing of the law, they can refer pregnant women to a doctor, but not for the purpose of an abortion. One of the great ironies here is that the sponsors of HB 1217 claim to be concerned that women are being "coerced" into making decisions about their own reproductive healthcare. A Congressional investigation a few years ago found that 87% of these "crisis centers" provide inaccurate information to women about the health effects of terminating a pregnancy.
Taking the abortion debate out of the equation for a moment, is a state allowed to require religious counseling prior to any medical procedure? What if I were scheduled to have a hysterectomy, or a liver transplant? Would I be required to go see a pastor -- and not even one of my own choosing, but one selected for me -- before I could have my operation? Or can I, as a reasonably intelligent adult, be permitted to make a decision on my own, fully informed, about what I have done to me by a doctor, without the state sending a minister into my room beforehand?
Addendum March 3: Apparently this bill has passed the Senate. Now it just needs the governor's signature: SD Abortion Bill Passes
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