SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Less than a week after the Supreme Court of the United States overruled Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision, South Dakota lawmakers are preparing to defend reproductive rights at home.
Following the court’s decision, Governor Kristi Noem announced that she was planning to hold a special session later this year about abortion in South Dakota. While many anti-abortion lawmakers are prepared to expand and clarify the abortion ban, some Democrats in the legislature don’t want the session to happen at all.
“I think having special session in general is just unnecessary, and it’s going to be a financial burden to this state,” Representative Erin Healy said. “And I expect that we’re going to see this specific special session criminalizing women, for their health care decisions, and also criminalizing doctors for trying to save their patients’ lives.”
Despite her resistance to the session, Representative Erin Healy (D-Sioux Falls) is still prepared to fight for reproductive rights of women in South Dakota when the session is called.
“I will always advocate for women to be able to decide what they want to do with their own bodies and to be able to get the health care that they need,” Healy said.
Representative Jennifer Keintz (D-Eden) also opposes a special session and said she would vote against holding one.
“Well, either way, I think that they’ve (anti-abortion lawmakers) been pretty clear about what they want,” Keintz said “And they appear to have gotten what they want. And so, what would we need a further special session for?”
But, if a special session is called, Keintz said she will be there.
“I would be there to defend the reproductive rights of pregnant people or just anyone who could become pregnant because I don’t believe that the intention here is to just outlaw abortion, it is reproductive freedom for everyone, at every level is, is at risk here,” Keintz said.
Keintz said she is worried that banning abortion will be the beginning of stripping away reproductive freedom from South Dakotans.
“Well, we’ve already seen attacks on procedures like IVF. There are people in the legislature who have stated very clearly that they would like to see IVF procedures not allowed,” Keintz said.
Healy and Representative Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls) are also concerned about legislation regarding IVF and surrogacy in light of the abortion ban. Healy said in her time in the legislature, she’s heard talks of bringing bills banning IVF and would expect similar legislation to resurface either in the special session or next legislative session.
In 2020, Representative Jon Hansen introduced a bill to prohibit commercial surrogacy contracts and “evaluate surrogacy in the state.” The bill ended up failing in the Senate Health and Human Services committee.
“I think there are a lot of ways for people to have families and become parents. And to have that choice when and how they become parents is something that we really need to protect,” Keintz said.
In addition to concerns over IVF and surrogacy, all three representatives are prepared to fight for and protect doctors in South Dakota who they say are being placed in a legal grey area with the current ban.
“If we change our laws to punish doctors more, that is also going to have serious consequences,” Healy said. “In the healthcare industry, in our state, we will see doctors leaving the state because they will not be able to give proper care to their patients.”
Healy said that in some states with similar bans in place, she’s heard of doctors consulting with legal teams to determine whether certain procedures can legally be performed.
The Washington Post reported that doctors across the country are unsure of how to proceed with medical care in states where abortion has now been banned including one case in Wisconsin where a woman was carrying a fetus with a fatal birth defect. The doctor texted a colleague, “What do I do?”
Healy is worried about that happening in South Dakota.
“And so, while they say that they don’t want to harm pregnant mothers by enforcing this, by changing it and making it a crime for doctors, we’re going to see a healthcare shift in our state where all women will no longer be– are at risk of poor health care. Because doctors will be afraid to actually give them the care they need.”
Keintz expressed a similar concern saying that doctors may not know at what point to provide medical care to a patient.
“And then what kind of risk is a health provider putting themselves at making that decision? Is the life at risk?” Keintz asked. “And at what point do you determine that the mother’s life is at risk? You know, how are they going to be held accountable.”
Governor Noem and some other anti-abortion lawmakers in South Dakota have stated that the punishment for abortions in South Dakota should fall primarily on doctors who perform them, not the people that receive them.
“Well, first of all, that the physician nor the person seeking the abortion should be punished for providing medical care,” Smith said.
Smith also added that he would advocate for exemptions for rape and incest as well as fatal fetal anomalies.
“It just becomes heartbreaking. The situations that people find themselves in right now. And our doctors are not able to provide the medical care necessary for their patients,” Smith said.
Keintz and Healy also expressed support of exemptions for rape and incest which some anti-abortion lawmakers are opposed to.
“To not have an exception for rape or incest is perhaps one of the more cruel things that that they could be advocating for,” Keintz said.
Smith added that he would also advocate for support for families once a child is born. That support would include fighting to improve nutrition, child care, economic resources, medical access, and education.
“Being pro-life doesn’t mean just having a baby, being pro-life should mean supporting that life once it’s born,” Smith said.
For Keintz, she’s hoping last week’s decision will inspire people to head to the polls because she said that whoever is in Pierre next January will shape the conversations around abortion.
“The initial shock is gonna wear off, but it’s not going anywhere between now and November. So, people are going to be aware of what a difference their votes can make.”
During the 2022 session, Healy brought a bill that would allow pregnant minors to receive prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care without the consent of a parent or guardian. The bill passed both the House and the Senate before being vetoed by Governor Noem.
“I plan to bring that again, because I think it’s really important that if we’re not going to allow women to choose to have a pregnancy, that we’re giving the best care to our minors and making sure that they get the necessary treatment they need to carry their baby,” Healy said.
A special session has not been officially announced yet. According to Governor Noem’s office, a date will be decided after a discussion with legislative leadership.