A federal court has dissolved an injunction against enforcement of a new law in South Dakota that requires abortion doctors to screen women for coercion and other factors that increase the risk of psychological complications after abortion.
Beginning July 1, physicians must screen women for coercion and other risk factors for psychological complications before scheduling an abortion.
The law contains elements of the Elliot Institute’s model legislation, which was the first in the nation to create civil liability for abortionists who fail to screen women for coercion and other risk factors.
“This is an important step forward in protecting the rights of women who are facing unwanted, unsafe, and unnecessary abortions,” said Dr. David Reardon, a leading researcher in the field of abortion complications and director of the Elliot Institute.
While in every other area of medicine doctors routinely screen for risk factors, abortion doctors have dropped this practice, Reardon noted.
“Abortion providers have excused themselves from the normal practice of screening expected everywhere else in medicine by embracing a radical view of patient autonomy,” he said. “Therefore, they have ignored screening for risk factors on the grounds that questioning regarding risk factors is intrusive, unnecessary, and inserts the physician into an abortion decision which belongs exclusively to the woman.”
In a 2003 law review article on the lack of appropriate pre-abortion screening, Reardon was the first to advocate for statutes, like the one passed in South Dakota, which would establish a duty to screen for risk factors for psychological complications. Among dozens of risk factors that have been well-established in the medical literature and were identified in the review, one of the most significant risk factors was being pressured or coerced to undergo an abortion to please other people, such as one’s parents or partner.
The problem of women being pressured into unwanted abortions is far more common than is generally realized. One study of women who had abortions found that 64 percent of American respondents reported being pressured to abort by someone else.
Reardon said that in most of these cases, women end up undergoing unwanted abortions that violate their own moral beliefs or maternal desires. Women who abort in such circumstances face significantly higher rates of subsequent substance abuse, depression, sleep disorders, suicide, and other negative psychological reactions.
Working with attorneys and other advocates for women hurt by abortions, Reardon and the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance drafted model legislation that would give women the right to redress when doctors fail to screen for known risk factors associated with abortion complications and properly inform women of their unique risk profiles.
Portions of the “Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortions Act” were passed in Nebraska in 2010 and in South Dakota in 2011. Both statutes were challenged in federal courts by Planned Parenthood.
In Nebraska, the attorney general agreed to a court stipulation to not engage in any state enforcement of the statute, but it remains in effect for private enforcement by individual women seeking damages under the statute.
In South Dakota, an injunction stopping the law from being enforced was issued in 2011. It was dissolved by the federal court ruling this week, following an amendment to the statute passed by the legislature in 2012.
“This federal court ruling confirms once again that it is appropriate and necessary to allow women to hold abortionists accountable for negligent pre-abortion screening and counseling,” Reardon said. “It is our hope that the other 48 states will quickly move to protect women from unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary abortions by passing their own versions of our model bill.”
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.