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South Dakota tries to ban abortion, again

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PIERRE, S.D. - New anti-abortion attempts are circulating through the South Dakota Legislature; and while less stringent than last year's attempt at first glance, they would set up more barriers to service than the 2006 version.

The voters of South Dakota turned down the 2006 anti-abortion bill because it did not include exceptions for incest, rape or the health of the mother.

The new bill includes exceptions for incest, rape and the health of the mother, but opponents of the bill claim it sets up different obstacles that would prevent many women from terminating a pregnancy in those cases.

American Indian women and other women at a low socioeconomic status would be most affected.

House Bill 1293, introduced on Jan. 31, mandates that a second opinion from a physician be obtained to determine whether the health of the mother is at risk should a pregnancy be taken to full term. It also requires that women who are victims of incest or rape reveal the identity of the perpetrator and that in the case of termination of the pregnancy, blood would be drawn from the mother and the fetus to determine a DNA connection to the perpetrator.

''This is a bill that is doing everything it can to put obstacles and barriers in front of [women] to terminate a pregnancy and doing this when life and health are at risk. The intent is not to assist the woman,'' said Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women's Resource Center and a founding member of the Indigenous Women's Political Caucus.

''Exceptions are not the intent of this bill; it has been written to put every possible barrier in front of a woman so that she can't have an abortion,'' Asetoyer said.

The exception for rape, incest and the health of the mother are what the voters wanted, according to Rep. Mary Glenski, D-Sioux Falls.

Glenski is one of the sponsors of the new bill. She said it made sense to bring the bill up again, because most South Dakotans oppose abortion.

She said her information from the voters indicated that the only reason for defeating last year's law was no exception for rape, incest and health of the mother.

As to another petition to overturn the legislature's possible passage of the bill, Glenski said she didn't think that would happen. She said that this bill is well thought out and contains what most of the voters in the state want.

The bill further states that a woman who is raped or is a victim of incest must report the perpetrator's identity to law enforcement before seeking to terminate the pregnancy.

A physician, before terminating a pregnancy, must also file a report with the perpetrator's identity and also that of the victim. The report would be a public record.

However, most rapes are not reported to law enforcement, especially within the American Indian community, opponents claim. The IHS does not perform rape testing.

''They [the legislators] do not know how many women are sexually assaulted. Some women will not disclose who the perpetrator is in a sexual assault. Will it cause women to leave the state? Yes. Do they have the means? Not really,'' Asetoyer said.

The women who can afford to leave the state to terminate a pregnancy will leave; the rest will be forced to jump through hoops and face many barriers, opponents argue.

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''This is a very terrible bill that forces women and families at a very vulnerable time into a web of bureaucracy and forces them into the law enforcement system, whether they want to be there or not,'' said Kate Looby, executive director of Planned Parenthood of South Dakota.

''If you can't afford to travel out of state you have no safe, legal options; that seems like a tremendous injustice to me,'' Looby said.

The bill is filled with racial bias and racial injustice when it involves the American Indian community, many American Indian women suggest.

A major sticking point for many is that a few months after the state's voters made it known that they didn't want the government involved in personal and family decisions, another anti-abortion, or anti-choice, bill was introduced.

''They didn't get the message,'' Looby said.

''The fact of the matter is that in this country, we have the right to access safe and legal abortions and have had that right for 34 years. For the legislators to take that right away from the women of this state is a tremendous injustice,'' Looby said.

To draw blood from the fetus and from the mother to determine DNA to use against the perpetrator in case of rape or incest seems to be a contradiction in beliefs for the Christian Right, Asetoyer said.

''The Christian Right is fundamentally opposed to harvesting stem cells to save people's lives; this proves further that this is about control and oppression as opposed to religious beliefs,'' she said.

Asetoyer said the state put the bill together without any true and accurate statistics on assaulted women who seek to terminate a pregnancy.

''There are a lot of abortions because of sexual assault,'' she said.

Opponents of last year's anti-abortion bill claim it was not about abortion, but about overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

''Last year's bill that was brought had nothing to do with abortion. It was a partisan, right wing factional move to do what? Use South Dakota as a guinea pig, a lab experiment, to test the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 decision,'' said state Rep. Thomas Van Norman, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

''We are wasting our time on the abortion issue again; it's a waste of time. We have greater needs than that that are not being met,'' Van Norman said.

Cecelia Fire Thunder, former Oglala Sioux Tribal president, said she would ask the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood to file a restraining order to stop the debate in the South Dakota Legislature.

''It absolutely amazes me that this body of men, and the majority are men, spend a lot of time and energy and emotion and religious beliefs on the unborn and not enough time on those who are living with us today,'' Fire Thunder said.

Fire Thunder is advocating for a one-year study on the status of children in the state and another on the status of women in the state.

Looby said her organization has not discussed the path that her organization will take on the bill; she said it she was hopeful that the bill would not go far in the Legislature.