PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota Senate committee on Wednesday approved an extension of what is already the nation's longest waiting period for a woman to receive an abortion.
Women seeking abortions in South Dakota currently must wait three days after seeing an abortion clinic doctor before they can have the procedure. The measure approved by the State Affairs Committee would make it so that weekends and holidays do not count in calculating the three-day waiting period.
The 6-3 vote by the State Affairs Committee means the measure now goes to the full Senate. The House has already approved the proposal.
Supporters said the change would ensure that women have time to reflect and seek counseling before ending a pregnancy, but opponents said it could hamper many women seeking abortions. The 2011 law that established the three-day waiting period also requires women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers, which discourage abortions.
Planned Parenthood, which operates the only abortion clinic in the state in Sioux Falls, challenged the law in court but recently withdrew its appeal of the three-day wait. The counseling requirement is still being challenged in federal court, where a judge has so far blocked it from taking effect.
Supporters of the counseling requirement contend it will prevent women from being pressured into getting abortions they don't want. Opponents argue the counseling sessions would be used to pressure women out of having abortions.
Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, the main sponsor of the measure to extend the waiting period, told the Senate committee that the law needs to be changed to make sure women have time to consult with pregnancy help centers. Supporters of the bill have said counselors are often not available on weekends and holidays. Hansen did not discuss the court injunction that has blocked the counseling.
"We want to ensure that a pregnancy help center can be adequately and properly staffed on a regular basis to help these pregnant mothers, and the pregnant mothers on a regular basis can receive this counseling," Hansen said.
Opponents argued that extending the three-day waiting period could cause hardships for some women, who may live far away and have to make two or three separate trips to Sioux Falls for an abortion.
The bill "would effectively ban abortion for many, if not all, women in our state," said Alisha Sidor, director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota.
Hansen countered that the clinic in Sioux Falls schedules abortions only one day a week, so most women already have to wait more than three days after their first consultation with a doctor.
Tiffany Campbell with the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota told the committee that she aborted one of her twin boys to save the life of the other. South Dakota's abortion law would not consider that an emergency, so other women facing similar situations might be forced into a delay that would cause both fetuses to die, she said.
"This bill isn't about letting a woman consider her decision. It's about coercing her, shaming her for a decision she's already made," Campbell said.
But Brittany Weston of Yankton said the state needs to make sure counseling at pregnancy help centers is available. She said the man who got her pregnant when she was 22 pressured her into getting an abortion and she wouldn't have had one if she had received such counseling.
Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, urged the Senate committee to kill the bill, saying she supports counseling for women seeking abortions but opposes extending the waiting period. Women forced to wait longer could face additional pressure and even violence from boyfriends trying to coerce them into abortions, she said.
"If a pregnancy help center cannot find a way to provide this counseling or weekends and holidays, we need to find somebody who can," Soli said.