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Patti Wigington

SD Bill Could Require Religious Counseling for Abortions

By March 1, 2011

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Lately, it seems to be a political perfect storm of attacks on women's reproductive healthcare. Legislators want to shut down funding for Planned Parenthood, one of the few places where lower-income women can get mammograms, contraceptives, and Pap smears. A number of states are looking at laws that could punish you for having a miscarriage. And then there's South Dakota, which has one of the worst track records already when it comes to gettin' all up in your ladyparts.

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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March 1, 2011 at 10:19 am
(1) Jennifer says:

I don’t think that’s right. I can see where getting an ultrasound and maybe going over other options such as adoption might be helpful, but having someone preach to me about something I don’t believe in just isn’t going to help in that decision.

March 1, 2011 at 11:15 am
(2) pk says:

There is currently only one clinic in SD that performs routine abortions, and that one clinic has to bring in a doctor from another state to do them. The facilities that provide counseling and abortion alternatives are not all religious by any means. All but the most militant pro-abortion groups agree that their goal really should be to provide women with enough choices to avoid unplanned pregnancies to make abortions in America fewer and farther between. And as for coercion, how about the Planned Parenthood that does do the abortions in SD? It’s located directly across the street from a high school. Doctors aren’t doing their jobs unless they let their patients know what their full scope of any treatment or procedure is, as well as all possible outcomes, not to mention the patient’s right to a second opinion provided by another source.

March 1, 2011 at 11:23 am
(3) pk says:

Forgive the typo. In editing, I mistakenly let the ‘Unplanned Parenthood’ phrase remain, when I meant Planned Parenthood.

March 1, 2011 at 11:45 am
(4) paganwiccan says:

pk – I’ll fix that for you so other commenters don’t point it out as an error :)

March 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm
(5) silvergryphon says:

While I am not shocked by this stupidity, it does make me very ashamed to admit that I have lived my entire life in Georgia. Please feel free to let Bobby Franklin know what you think of this inane proposal by contacting him at bobbyfranklin@house.ga.gov. I most definitely intend to let him know my deep displeasure and will do what I can to make sure he is never elected again.

March 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm
(6) CypherDragon says:

I fail to see how this is even constitutional…but then again, I also don’t see how mandated 12-step programs are constitutional either. I personally believe that trying to use law to mandate participation in any kind of religious event (whether it’s called counseling, support groups, etc) should all be struck down as violating the separation of church and state clauses in the Constitution. Same goes for any laws with obvious religious leanings (gay rights comes to mind here). Laws should be completely secular; religious bias of any form is unacceptable in my mind.

March 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm
(7) pk says:

There aren’t any separation of church and state clauses in the Constitution. There is a guarantee of freedom of religion. The idea of the separation of church and state appeared in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson. For church/state separation to occur in the way people already think it does, it will need to be added to the Constitution.

March 8, 2011 at 10:55 am
(8) Persephone says:

The phrase :separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, however, the wording is quite clear: the government cannot support religion nor discriminate against it. Funding for religious organizations is unconstitutional, as well as requiring people to take part in religious activities, including counseling. Those things show preference for religion, which the government is not allowed to do.

The statement that separation of church and state is not spelled out in the Constitution is misleading and fallacious.

March 1, 2011 at 8:14 pm
(9) ally says:

this whole thing just infuriates me. cutting money from things that obviously are important (health and education are some of the most important things!), forcing issues and ideas on people… just the reason i am not not a fan of republicans (and yes i’m aware i’m generalizing here, but under the circumstances…). i’m still dumbfounded that they could “punish for a miscarriage” and force people to go to a different place for counseling, i don’t care the religion, that would make me very uncomfortable. i guarantee that planned parenthood doesn’t say just “okay” when you talk about getting an abortion, they talk to you about it and make sure you know your options etc. ridiculous, all around.

March 1, 2011 at 9:25 pm
(10) Rowan ferch Gwynedd says:

To me it looks as if this is the first step in disenfranchising women. After all men do not get pregnant. Next they will make it illegal to give women information about birth control. People talk about Ireland being a religiously oppressed country, but it looks as if the good old USA is almost as bad. I am beginning to think that it was a mistake to serve my country, as those freedoms I thought we had are being taken away. By the way pk, there must be something in law about the separation of church and state as there have been a countless number of lawsuits in this country based on this premise.

March 2, 2011 at 2:37 am
(11) pk says:

The lawsuits usually have something to do with religious harrassment or religious discrimination, because church/state separation isn’t a winning argument to the laws we currently follow. It sucks, but there it is. I respectfully would like to say on my own behalf, that I haven’t put my own body into a sexual relationship in which I didn’t accept any and all consequences. That was my choice, and I firmly believe in saving women and babies alike by empowering women to really own their own bodies and taking responsibility for getting pregnant or not by choice, and being strong and choosing to give life. Even if they can’t raise a baby, someone desperately wants a baby. I can’t see any religion condoning its practitioners deciding to stop any heartbeat. Not any religion that truly believes in the reach to attain peace.

March 8, 2011 at 11:06 am
(12) Persephone says:

While it may not appear to make sense to you that abortion could be a part of religion, it is a part of human recorded history, which means it probably occurred long before written history began.

There is a recognition in many religions that the life that is established, the mother, is of more value than the life that is not, the fetus. Even in Orthodox Judaism, if the life of the mother is at risk, or the child will cause injury to the mother, abortion is acceptable.

As to Planned Parenthood, as noted by Patti, PP provides many services other than abortion. Abortion is a small, sometimes non-existent, part of the services your local PP provides. When I was young and uninsured, they provided my birth control and PAP smears at a discount. PP’s willingness to help anyone who walks in the door is the main reason these organizations want to destroy it. They want to control women and the best way to do that is to control their sexual behavior. Limiting access to birth control and health services makes it easier to control women’s lives. Passing laws that don’t allow teenagers to get birth control and sexual education is another attempt to control lives.

If people do not have access to information on sex and birth control, and easy access to birth control, then people cannot make informed decisions or practice safe sex and family plannning.

March 8, 2011 at 9:53 pm
(13) Azelma says:

I suppose you’re talking about modern religions? Some palaeo-pagan religions really had no problem with stopping heartbeats. I mean, you had some Meso-American cultures going to a lot of effort to drag that beating heart out of someone’s chest and offer it to the gods. Tacitus tells us about Germanic peoples sacrificing humans to Odin, and Tollund Man might be one of those men. And let’s not forget the practise of killing newborn babies by exposure, leaving them out on hillsides or rubbish piles to die. The Greeks and Romans did this. The Germanic tribes did this. It was still practised in Iceland when they converted to Christianity.

Pregnancy takes a massive toll on your body; it’s not just about not wanting a child, but not wanting to be pregnant.

I appreciate your feelings on the matter and your support of choice.

March 2, 2011 at 8:59 am
(14) Rosalynde Coeur de Lion says:

One word to sum this all up, “Absurd!” While I have never been a fan of abortion, I do believe that women do have the right to choose. First off, this is a very unconstitional document. Anything that coerces Americans into doing something against their own views is not constitutional in the slightest. That is disgusting. Planned parenthood is quite beneficial, now if only people would realize this.

March 2, 2011 at 9:35 am
(15) Terry says:

While some may not see any religion that would “condone it’s practitioners deciding to stop any heartbeat” nor would any legitimate religion condone continuing on with a condition which would amount to suicide for the woman, which is a decision only a doctor should be legally allowed to discuss with their patient. Any organization outside of a legitimately recognized medical field which distorts the legitimate medical facts should be excluded from consideration as a “counseling service” nor should any patient be forced or required to accept counseling from any religious source(or counseling agency affiliated with any particular religious source or dogma) which conflicts with their own belief system, to do so does inherently violate the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.

March 2, 2011 at 12:08 pm
(16) Herbert Stewart says:

I would go so far as to suggest that no Court be allowded to order ‘Couseling’ at any Facility that files a Religious Tax-Exemption Form….. Not just for this ‘Inane’ Purpose.
Any Court Mandated ‘Couseling’ should be performed at an Accredited, Tax-Paying, Legal and Governmentally Licensed Facility. I don’t Honestly care if this means ‘Domestic/Marriage/Parenting’ orders from Family Court. Driving school, DUI, etc from Traffic Court. Behavioural etc as a part of Probation in Criminal Court. If a Facility is Tax-Exempt (For ‘Religious’ reasons) it shouldn’t get Court Referals. For this or any other ‘Court’ (ie: Government) Business. JMO.

March 8, 2011 at 10:36 am
(17) Margana says:

My ex husband and his reborn Christian family believe that women who suffer miscarriages should be brought up on charges of Involuntary Manslaughter.

I had two miscarriages while married to him but looking back now I realize that was a blessing; that man shouldn’t breed.

March 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm
(18) Avalon says:

Most of the country is run by MEN. Society follows what MEN say. MEN have no clue how a pregnancy affects a womens body, mental health, and future life. All MEN have to do is the “fun” part, then they sit back and have no role in the “bringing life into this world” part. They don’t have the slightest idea what a woman goes through during the pregnancy. Sure they see her getting larger, but they don’t “see” how tired she is, how lonely she could be, how physically and mentally drained she becomes. If a woman makes the hard decision to abort her unborn child, I believe that is her choice. If she happens to have a miscarriage, and she even wanted the child, that is still a sad event, but one SHE HAD NO CONTROL OVER. It’s like back in history when a man wanted a boy child to carry on the family name and only had girls, it was ALWAYS the womans fault. Like she really had control over that either!!!

March 8, 2011 at 11:12 am
(19) Persephone says:

This whole situation is why the ERA is absolutely necessary. Laws are subject to change, and their constitutionality can take years to settle and relies on a court that is not objective and is based on political appointments.

March 8, 2011 at 11:54 am
(20) ChrisTea says:

The state, the federal govt., the Church nor anyone else has any business telling you what you can or can’t do medically. It’s between you and your doctor. Of course, now that all doctors bow down to the decisions of the insurance companies, I don’t know where that leaves us in trying to take care of our own medical issues. These days, it seems that any decisions we make about our own lives and health are ruled over by some agency. This is just plain wrong. Granted, we have to have some rules about the way things are done, but I think people in power have gotten carried away and developed a god complex. Oops, there I am, mixing church and state!

March 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm
(21) Rain Audrey says:

While I disagree with everything about this bill, I also know that just disagreeing with a proposed bill will not stop it from becoming law. What we need to do is reach out to our Pagan friends in South Dakota, look for an organization or coven who will go through all of the necessary requirements to become a “pregnancy help center” and do right by these women at the time when they need someone to do right by them the most.

Most likely, the state of South Dakota will have two choices: 1) They have to just let it happen since it was their idea (doubtful), or 2) They’ll put every roadblock in the Pagan group’s way, allowing us to challenge the law on a basis of Establishment of Religion and nullify it completely.

Since you have a bit wider of reach, do you happen to know of any Pagan groups in the area? I’d be happy to start sending emails and reaching out myself if you knew of any contacts that I could start out with.

- Rain

March 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm
(22) Rain Audrey says:

I just wanted to add comment inspired by one made by Persephone regarding the ERA. Personally, I feel that the ERA is not only redundant, but derogatory towards women. The 14th Amendment says that we as citizens have the right to Due Process and Equal Protection. The ERA’s purpose is to declare that women are equal under the law to a man. To be frank, I’m embarassed to think that their is reason to believe that women are not equal to men already.

Women are citizens, not a special subset of this country in need of the protection from a bunch of old, white men (Congress).

Instead of applying efforts toward the passing of an ERA, we should just be ensuring that the 14th amendment is enforced as it should be. Laws are not passed telling men what they can and cannot do with their bodies so by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the government cannot pass a law telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Along the same lines, the Due Process Clause protects all citizens (men and women) to their rights of life (which they have the right to protect as they see fit), liberty (including to choose), and property (including their bodies).

Sorry for the rant.

March 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm
(23) Samantha says:

No, even an ultrasound is not necessary. It is just another ploy to make people stop having abortions. It is wrong to try to influence someone’s personal decision. I could never make that decision for anyone else and I do not ever want anyone else dictating to me what I, or anyone I care about, should decide. And just a heads up: if I don’t believe like they do (religiously), what in the world makes them think for one minute their religious babble will make a difference?

March 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm
(24) Leslie Lanning says:

This is an outrage. It’d disgusting to me how the right wing extremist /forced birthers are trying to strip us of our rights to our own body and our own lives. Not to mention trying to force the dictates of Christianity on all citizens regardless of their religious background. Is this not what many Americans came to the US to avoid? Religious persecution is fueling up for a long battle in this country. We need to be prepared to fight back or lose all our rights, sending us all back to the dark ages when they burned women as witches if they showed any strength at all.

March 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm
(25) blackrose says:

that is such bs how dare they even think that they can force there ideas on someone.what if some one has been raped or is a child of incesed how can they think some zelot would be a good idea to talk to that person . it is so wrong

March 9, 2011 at 1:58 am
(26) pk says:

I have seen some great arguments for both sides, and fully appreciate the fact that everyone here can express their thoughts without resorting to name-calling and inflammatory statements. Thank you one and all for this opportunity.

I have been witness to a number of different facets of abortion. A very good friend was gang-raped and her mental health and her life were threatened by continuing her pregnancy. Hers wasn’t an easy decision, but I supported her. A family member’s life was threatened by an ectopic pregnancy, and she and her husband did what they had to do to keep a mother for the child they already had.

I have offered my home, monetary and emotional support to no less than three women facing an unplanned pregnancy, and all of them decided, and use in their excuse the word “convenience” in terminating. They broke my heart. I do NOT believe that religious counseling is the answer either, but if any woman wants that support, they should be able to get it. I am in the one town in SD with a Planned Parenthood center, and we’re not a huge pagan community here, but I would like to see counseling here from a pagan perspective, and would welcome assistance that can be offered to see it happen.

March 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm
(27) Jhane says:

First of all, what good would it do to give christian counseling to a pagan? It still wouldn’t change my mind if I had it made up to begin with even if the use of guilt and cooersion were used. Second, all souls return at their own choosing and if an abortion took place, it is just their lifes’ plan anyway. I hope no one takes this as a cold statement, since we reincarnate and have a preplanned life. I of course would hope that a woman thinks thoroughly and responsibly thru before she makes up her mind and not use this method as “oops” birth control. It is still our right none the less…

March 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm
(28) Neesideezik says:

I have to also support Planned Parenthoods. Most centers do not do abortions, but all centers offer contraception and STD screening, and often are the only place where women without insurance can get care. And most Planned Parenthoods that do abortions also do ultrasounds and offer to show the picture to the patient. I have never seen them coerce anybody; they give information. I do not understand why the grey-haired white men in congress are deciding the reproductive health care for women. I do not know why the decision to be the best mother at the correct time is controlled by politics, law, and the Christian church. Women know best what is best in their lives, (sometimes not even supported by well meaning friends) and I feel that most women approach these issues thoughtfully and not carelessly. Let us allow women to make the decisions for their own lives.

March 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm
(29) Aurora MoonWolf says:

I am completely against abortion (don’t want to argue about why, I’m just stating my beliefs), and yes I am Pagan. However, religious counseling prior to abortions wouldn’t make sense, unless it involved the person’s religion, otherwise the person is just going to tune out and will go through with it anyway. Also, the whole thing about getting in legal trouble for having a miscarriage…um, I thought miscarriages just happen? I mean, yes, there are things that you can do to make yourself have a miscarriage, but there are some women that desperately want a child but keep having miscarriages. It’s not their fault. But anyways, I don’t like the idea of religious counseling for anything. It should be a choice an individual makes, to go to clergy in whatever religion they are to get counseling on whatever they need counseling for.

March 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm
(30) SiriusBlacktheCat says:

The truth about these “counseling” centers is so much worse than you can imagine. When I was 16, a victim of date-rape gone really bad [pregnancy] I went to a place that offered free testing. When I went through with an abortion, the staff at this place called me constantly, called me horrible names, and even threatened me with public exposure and humiliation by denouncing me at my family’s church. They only gave up and stopped harassing me after I allowed myself to get pregnant again, halfway through my senior year. I never recovered from their abuse – never pursued the extra scholarship that would have paid for college AND medical school expenses. Instead of a cardiologist, I became a high priestess and pastor to other people abuse by Christians.

March 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm
(31) Ever says:

I agree, Avalon.
I believe that it is wrong for the government to force people to be visited by a preacher. Clever of them, though, to word it so that it never mentioned religion but excluded non-religious organisations. Well, karma will eventually do something. Maybe there will be a law too do with males having sex if they’re circumcised some day, and if they want to have sex but they are circumcised, they’ll be preached to… never mind.
Many Blessings, Ever )O(

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