PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s abortion ban will remain as it is written for now.
A bill that would have clarified the language of the “the life of the mother” was tabled by the sponsor, Republican Representative Taylor Rehfeldt, Tuesday.
“This bill aims to clarify and put into statute the same language that has been in place since 1993. The same language that has been in place for 30 years,” Rehfeldt told lawmakers in the House Health and Human Services Committee. “We’ve always valued the life of women in South Dakota, as valuing the life of women and protecting the life of women has been in law since 1887.”
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, South Dakota’s trigger ban went into effect outlawing abortion in all cases except to “save the life of the mother.” What constitutes life-saving care is not clear, according to several lawmakers who answered a KELOLAND News survey last fall.
Rehfeldt’s bill would have clarified the ban to define “the life of the mother” as meaning the pregnant female is “at serious risk of death” or “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of one or more major bodily functions.” The bill also stated the procedure must be performed in a licensed hospital and by a licensed physician.
The Sioux Falls Republican said she began working on the bill over the summer in the wake of the Dobbs decision with friends and colleagues who, like Rehfeldt, are advanced practice nurses. At that time, she also began hearing from people who were concerned about the language of the bill and wanted clarification.
“I don’t think there is anyone else in this room that can care about the health of women more than myself,” Rehfeldt said.
In a tearful testimony, Rehfeldt told lawmakers she had experienced a miscarriage in the past and that with her first two children, and a current pregnancy, she is considered a high-risk during pregnancy.
“With the current law in place, I will tell you, I wake up fearful of my pregnancy, and what it would mean for my children, my husband and my parents if something happened to me, and the doctor cannot perform life-saving measures,” Rehfeldt said.
In the months following the fall of Roe v. Wade, one South Dakota OB/GYN told KELOLAND News doctors at their health system were confused by the ban’s language and what that would mean for care that they are able to provide.
“It has kind of a chilling effect, like, you know, I think we can, legally because the mom’s life is at risk,” the OB/GYN, who wished to remain anonymous, told KELOLAND News in August. “But it kind of doesn’t matter what the law actually says. The only thing that actually matters is what OB/GYNs across the state think it says, because if you’re not sure, and it’s two in the morning, you’re going to do the thing that’s going to not get you into trouble, you know?”
In her speech to the committee, Rehfeldt mentioned backlash to the bill around the language.
“I have absolute confidence that 99% of South Dakotans would agree with the concept of this bill, and in protecting both moms and babies. But here I am today unable to get consensus on a language that has been in place for 30 years,” Rehfeldt said.
Rehfeldt said that she had not imagined her bill would be “contentious.”
“I would have never thought that the idea of preserving the life of the mother would be debatable, or even considered not pro-life by some who would think that being pro-life could mean that we do not protect women, that we are not willing to provide clarification for doctors who have given their lives to care for not just one, but two patients,” Rehfeldt said.
Members of South Dakota Right to Life were present at Tuesday’s hearing but declined to comment on the now-tabled bill.
As Rehfeldt asked the committee to table her bill, she said she would be back next year to continue the fight.
“My life matters, a woman’s life matters. We were pro-women before Roe v. Wade was overturned, and we are still pro-women afterwards,” Rehfeldt said. “I am here to tell you that there are people that care about women, that care about them deeply. And I will continue to fight for that.”
The committee voted unanimously to table the bill.