The South Dakota Legislature on Wednesday passed a proposal from Gov. Kristi Noem that aims to make the state one of the hardest places in the US to get abortion pills, though it won’t actually be enacted unless the state prevails in a federal court battle.
Every Senate Republican voted to pass the bill, sending it to Noem’s desk on a 32-2 vote. However, the bill contains language that stipulates most of it won’t take effect unless the state convinces a federal judge to lift a preliminary injunction against a similar rule Noem attempted to enact last year.
The bill would require women seeking an abortion to make three separate trips to a doctor in order to take abortion pills and make it clear that women in the state cannot get them through a telemedicine consultation.
The Food and Drug Administration last year permanently removed a major obstacle for women seeking abortion pills by eliminating a long-standing requirement that they pick up the medication in person.
But women in South Dakota are still required to make two trips to an abortion clinic to get the pills. First, for an initial screening, then they must wait 72 hours before they can return to the clinic to get both drugs in the two-dose regimen. They can take the second dose at home.
Noem’s bill would add a third mandatory visit that would require women to wait at least a day before returning to the abortion clinic to take the second drug in the regimen.
After the governor attempted to implement a similar rule last year, Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s only clinic that regularly provides abortion services, sued the state. It argued the restriction was an unconstitutional violation of abortion rights and would have made it practically impossible for the clinic to provide any medicine-induced abortions.
A federal judge last month granted a preliminary injunction against the rule, but the state has appealed that ruling.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Republican Sen. Erin Tobin argued that telemedicine consultations for abortion risked women’s health because it would raise the chances doctors miss conditions that could complicate the procedure.
While Noem centered her arguments in the Legislature around women’s health, she celebrated its passage as a clampdown on abortion access.
“With this bill, we will protect both unborn babies and their mothers from this dangerous procedure,” she posted on Twitter shortly after it passed the Senate.
However, the FDA last year found a scientific review supported broadening access and doing away with the requirement they be picked up in person.
The agency found complications were rare from the drugs, which are used in about 40% of all abortions in the US The FDA has reported 26 deaths associated with the drug since 2000, though not all of those can be directly attributed to the medication due to existing health conditions and other factors.
“Medication abortion is safe, common and essential health care,” Jett Jonelis, the advocacy manager for the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement after the Senate vote. “South Dakotans deserve the right to make their own personal decisions about their lives and futures without politicians getting in the middle of the doctor-patient relationship.”