by Rana Irby
Protection for unborn children gained major victories in South Dakota these first few months of 2021. The recent legislative session in the state saw five bills advancing the cause of life. Included were a ban on abortions of children with Down syndrome and a law requiring medical care for babies born alive in failed abortions. The bills passed through the state legislature despite opposition from some members of the local medical community and abortion rights advocates.
H.B. 1110, S.B. 183, H.B. 1114, H.B. 1130 and H.B. 1051 were signed into law by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. Garnering much attention were H.B. 1110 and H.B. 1051, the ban on Down syndrome abortions and the “Born Alive” bill, respectively. The other bills make forcing an abortion through surrogacy contract illegal, more specifically defines abortion, and sets rules for when particular literature has to be given to women who were provided abortion-inducing drugs. Not without significant effort did the measures make it to Governor Noem’s desk, especially in regards to H.B. 1110 and H.B. 1051.
Governor Noem herself initiated H.B. 1110, noting the right to life for those with Down syndrome. The measure passed unanimously through the state House and Senate before getting back to her for signature. It prohibits doctors from performing abortions on women seeking the procedure because of a possible Down syndrome diagnosis resulting from a screening. The lead up to the passage of the bill included testimony from people with the condition and their family members. Supporters touted the ban as a fight against “eugenics,” invoking the example of countries with high rates of abortion associated with Down syndrome diagnoses. Opponents, however, raised concern regarding abortion access and the relationship between doctors and patients. Planned Parenthood Action Fund in South Dakota manager of advocacy Kristin Hayward was quoted in the Associated Press as referring to the recent bills as infringement on abortion rights and the doctor-patient relationship. Seventy medical workers from around South Dakota sent a letter to legislators expressing disapproval of the bill on the grounds it would negatively impact doctor-patient relations and that there are no exceptions for lethal fetal conditions. A section in the bill states, though, that it does not affect abortions "necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman because her life is endangered by a physical disorder...if no other medical procedure would suffice for that purpose." Also of note is that the measure does not criminalize the mothers.
H.B. 1051, or the “Born Alive” bill, received just as much effort during its process through the legislature. It added provisions to the state statute making it mandatory for doctors to provide medical care to babies born during an attempted abortion, as well as levying a $10,000 fine for doctors that fail to comply and requiring that a report on the number of babies born surviving abortions be compiled by the state health office. In addition, doctors involved in these situations can be sued by the mothers and children who survive the abortions and may have their medical license revoked.
As in the case of H.B. 1110, the measure drew testimony from those with stake in its outcome. Abortion Survivors Network founder and author Melissa Ohden testified in support of the bill and recounted her experience of surviving an abortion. The aforementioned medical workers expressing opposition to the pro-life bills included disagreement with H.B. 1051 based on the supposed harm the bill would do to women’s healthcare. Nevertheless, the legislation passed the South Dakota State Senate 32-3 and made it back to Governor Noem’s desk for signature. This and the success of the other bills is on top of the fact that elective abortions are not performed in the state after 13 weeks.
The push for the cause of life in South Dakota came with no small exertion of energy. This came in the form of no less than five bills protecting life passing the legislature and becoming law in the first few months of this year. Despite opposition, it was a significant step for life in the state.