South Dakota Law Protects Rights of Women Facing Coerced and Unsafe Abortions, Gives Information on Alternatives
Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit over a new South Dakota law requiring doctors to screen women for coercion and psychological risk factors before abortion, claiming it is unconstitutional, Reuters is reporting.
The law, which is to take effect July 1, requires a licensed physician to meet with a woman at least 72 hours before an abortion to assess her risk factors and ensure that she is not being coerced into the abortion. The woman must also receive counseling from a pregnancy center — not a group that performs or refers for abortion — on her options and available resources. An abortion can be scheduled by the physician only after these requirements have been fulfilled.
The law contains elements of the Elliot Institute’s model legislation, which creates legal liability for abortion businesses who fail to screen women for coercion and for risk factors that put them at risk for psychological problems after abortion. The model legislation was passed in Nebraska last year.
Research Shows Need for Law
A survey of American and Russian women who underwent abortions found that 64 percent of American respondents reported being pressured to abort by someone else and more than half said they felt rushed or uncertain before the abortion. However, more than 80 percent reported that they did not receive adequate counseling before the abortion.
A report published by the Elliot Institute, Forced Abortion in America, shows that coerced and forced abortions are not as uncommon as most people think. The report contains accounts of women and girls who were coerced or forced into abortion or who were assaulted or killed for refusing to abort.
One such case in South Dakota involved a pregnant woman who survived being stabbed in the abdomen by her boyfriend, resulting in the death of her four- to five-month old unborn child. Her boyfriend pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter under a plea bargain and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Prosecutor Mark McNeary described the attack as “heinous,” saying the man “intentionally stabbed the woman in the stomach, causing the death of the unborn child.”1
Numerous studies have also shown that women who are pressured to abort are at much higher risk of experiencing psychological complications following the abortion. In addition, there are a number of other statistically significant risk factors that increase a woman’s risk of having psychological problems after abortion. The new law would require a physician to make an assessment of these factors before scheduling an abortion.
“No Questions Asked”
Paula Talley, an organizer of the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance, believes that screening would have helped her avoid an unwanted abortion 30 years ago. Had such a law been in place, she said, she “would have been spared the years of grief, depression, and substance use which followed my own unwanted abortion.”
“My abortion counselor never asked if I was being pressured, nor did she inquire about my psychological history,” Talley said. “If she had, she would have known that I was at higher risk of experiencing post-abortion trauma because I had a history of depression.”
Talley said that she was pressured to abort by her employer, an issue that was never addressed by abortion clinic staff. Although she had moral beliefs against abortion — which is recognized by researchers as a risk factor for psychological problems after abortion — feelings of fear and panic made her believe she had to undergo the abortion.
“If the abortion counselor had bothered to ask the right questions, she would have seen that I was more likely to be hurt than helped by the abortion,” Talley added. “But I was never warned. They just took my money, and my baby, no questions asked.”
Protecting the Rights of Women
Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon said that the lack of counseling and failure to ask questions at abortion businesses puts women and girls at risk of unwanted abortions.
“Too often, abortion clinics and others simply assume that if a woman is coming for an abortion, it is her free choice,” he said. “This ‘no questions asked’ policy is especially harmful to those in abusive situations, including young girls who are victims of sexual predators. Women should not be forced into unwanted abortions and subjected to violence or pressure from others.”
He said that screening laws are needed to help protect the rights of women who might otherwise be pressured or coerced into abortion without knowing the risks.
“If a woman is pressured or coerced into an abortion or undergoes an abortion without having information about alternatives or the potential physical and psychological impact, her rights have been violated,” he said. “This is coercion, not choice.”
The Elliot Institute is dedicated to conducting original research on the impact of abortion on women and to promoting efforts to create a safe, healing environment for those struggling with a past abortion. The Stop Forced Abortions Alliance is a project of the Elliot Institute.
1. Paul Nowak, “South Dakota Man Charged With Two Crimes in Unborn Victims Case,” LifeNews.com, Nov. 27, 2003 (www.lifenews.com/state238.html); “Man charged with 2 counts of assault,” The Rapid City Journal, Nov. 23, 2003; “Man charged with killing unborn baby to stay in jail,” The Rapid City Journal, Nov. 26, 2003; “House Oks fetal homicide measure,” The Mercury News, Feb. 27, 2004; Scott Waltman, “Aberdeen man gets 35 years in prison,” Aberdeen American News, March 27, 2004, p. 1A.