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Planned Parenthood sues South Dakota over abortion restrictions

Women's health advocates say South Dakota's requirement that women see their doctor three times to receive medication abortions is unconstitutional.

(CN) — Planned Parenthood sued the state of South Dakota in federal court Wednesday, saying the state created new barriers for women seeking access to abortion services. 

Joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood said the South Dakota Department of Health, at the behest of Governor Kristi Noem, illegally created rules that require patients to wait 24 hours to receive their second dose of a medication that induces abortions — meaning patients have to visit medical service providers three separate times. 

The two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, are given in two distinct rounds to patients, with the second round typically taken at home. The new rule means patients will have to travel back to the clinic to take misoprostol rather than take it at home. 

“Adding unnecessary barriers to health care just doesn’t make sense," said Sarah Stoesz, CEO of the North Central States branch of Planned Parenthood, in a statement Wednesday. "The decision to have an abortion is deeply personal and should be left to patients and their doctors. We are hopeful the court will stop this rule from going into effect so that South Dakotans can choose for themselves when and how to access health care services, including abortion.”

Noem campaigned on the promise of limiting abortion services in the Mount Rushmore State. "I look forward to the day when the life of every unborn child is protected in South Dakota," Noem said in a statement regarding the rule change.

A six-member committee of the Legislature ratified Noem's proposal last week in a 4-2 vote. Not all of the dissenters were from the Democratic Party: Republican state Senator Timothy Johns said the role of the government is to not intercede in the patient-doctor relationship. 

"I truly am troubled," he said. "I'm highly reluctant to ever intervene when it comes to decisions between patients and doctors, and I think we're getting too close."

The lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks emergency injunctive relief, asking a judge to rescind the rule immediately. The new law is slated to take effect Jan. 27. 

South Dakota already has many abortion restrictions in place, including a requirement to wait 72 hours before obtaining an abortion along with other provisions that mandate in-person counseling and bans on telehealth appointments relating to abortion services. 

“South Dakotans already must contend with costly and medically unnecessary hurdles in obtaining abortion care,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “With the state's new rule, patients will now need to manage travel, time off work, and child care to make not two, but three visits to a health center to get time-sensitive health care, all while navigating existing state restrictions on abortion access."

Since mifepristone was first approved by the FDA in 2000, more than 4 million patients in the United States have relied on the mifepristone–misoprostol regimen to safely end their pregnancies. In 2020, approximately 40% of abortions in South Dakota were medication abortions. 

The ACLU said its involvement is predicated on the principle of restraining the government from intervening in the relationship between patient and doctor.

“A person’s right to an abortion is a private medical decision, but it’s clear that the attacks on South Dakotans’ privacy are not letting up,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of South Dakota legal director. “South Dakota’s restrictions on medication abortion needlessly block access to essential medical service in our state.”

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