SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As of today, abortion is legal in all 50 states across the country. But come this summer, several states, including South Dakota and North Dakota, could lose access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in Dobbs vs. Jackson.
Dr. Sarah Traxler is the Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood North Central region and is one of four physicians who provides abortion care to pregnant people in South Dakota. Every few weeks, the doctor flies from the Twin Cities to Sioux Falls at the start of the week to consult with patients and provide them with state-mandated information and receive their informed consent. Then, the doctor travels back to Minnesota only to return once the 72-hour waiting period has passed to either perform the abortion procedure or provide the medication necessary to end the pregnancy.
Traxler says it is her belief that people should have access to abortion in their communities.
“Because there aren’t any physicians willing to provide abortion care in South Dakota, we feel compelled to offer that care in that person’s community,” Traxler said.
If Roe v. Wade was overturned, South Dakota has what is known as a trigger law that would immediately ban abortion in the state and classify it as a Class 6 felony. Traxler said that this could lead to an influx of patients seeking abortions in states with protections in place even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Traxler says this would leave pregnant people in South Dakota with three options: Travel to Colorado, Montana or Minnesota for abortion care, self-manage abortion at home, or be forced to carry their pregnancy to full-term.
“What it means is that abortion won’t be accessible,” Traxler said.
One Sioux Falls woman was recently faced with such a decision when she found out she was pregnant last December. The 32-year-old mother of two, who wished to remain anonymous, told KELOLAND News that she had to leave South Dakota to access abortion care after her contraception failed.
“I found out I was pregnant, and I was around, like, five-and-a-half, six weeks pregnant,” the 32-year-old Sioux Falls woman said.
The mother of two said that due to nearly fatal pregnancies with her first two children, her family and doctor decided another pregnancy would be a high-risk for her and could end with her or the baby dying. She and her husband made the decision to terminate the pregnancy.
“It was mid-December and I called Planned Parenthood and tried to schedule an abortion and the soonest that the Sioux Falls clinic could have gotten me in was the end of January,” the 32-year-old Sioux Falls woman said.
At the time, Governor Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Department of Health were working to pass a rule that would have required a third visit for pregnant people seeking to end their pregnancy. The mother of two worried that with the legislative session starting, abortion access could change drastically by the end of January and prevent her from receiving care.
That rule is now codified in South Dakota law but due to pending litigation between the state and Planned Parenthood cannot take effect at this time.
Across the border to Iowa, the wait was even longer and would have required her to undergo a surgical abortion which she did not want. In Minnesota, the St. Paul clinic had some availability.
“That would have meant driving into the Twin Cities, staying there overnight the night before and being there all day just to get a medication abortion, which is just two pills,” the 32-year-old Sioux Falls woman said. “I already have two daughters, a job. It could have been feasible, but it would have been hard.”
Instead, the Sioux Falls mother used a telemedicine service through Minnesota to access care. In late December, she drove to Luverne where she was able to speak with a physician and receive the medication in Minnesota since she was unable to receive it while in South Dakota due to the current laws in place.
On Christmas Eve, the mother of two took the first of two medications needed to pass the pregnancy.
“It was a really sad, hard experience,” the 32-year-old said.
The decision to end the pregnancy was difficult but the other option was scarier, she said.
“It would have been a really terrifying eight months of pregnancy, waiting to see if I would make it out of childbirth and a delivery again,” the 32-year-old Sioux Falls woman said. “Or if I would go through childbirth and delivery and then have a stillborn or lose that child during delivery.”
Traxler says this route of seeking abortion care out of state could be the norm if federal protections are stripped away from abortion rights in the United States. That’s why some clinics are considering longer hours and more resources to accommodate a surge of patients from states like South Dakota or North Dakota if access was lost.
In 2020, South Dakota halted access to abortions due to the coronavirus pandemic which prompted more than 400 South Dakota women to leave the state to access the procedure according to South Dakota News Watch.
Traxler added that if access to abortion is restricted in some states following the decision, she believes marginalized, rural and poor communities will be most impacted by the loss of abortion care.
“I think when we truly consider abortion access, people with money and resources are gonna be able to find a way to travel and get the care that they need,” Traxler said.
In Sioux Falls, the 32-year-old mother says she and her family continue to grieve the loss of their baby. She says it’s important to talk about abortion and the unique, personal stories of those who have one.
“People want it to be this dichotomy of either this really empowering experience or, you know, a shameful experience,” the 32-year-old Sioux Falls woman said. “For me, it was very matter of fact: I lost a pregnancy.”