A bill making its way through the South Dakota legislature would mandate that all women who need an abortion first undergo “counseling” at a Crisis pregnancy center and then wait 72 hours before the procedure could be performed. The bill also creates a burden of proof of sorts by requiring that a women “prove” she is not being coerced into a decision to terminate her pregnancy.
The state Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-1 to send the bill to a full chamber. The House has already passed the measure and the governor is likely to sign it.
Assuming the bill becomes law it will likely face a legal challenge as it unreasonably restricts women’s rights to access legal health care procedure.
Mandatory counseling/waiting bills are offensive for a number of reasons. They drum up the imaginary problem of women “rushing” through the decision and process of terminating a pregnancy when the evidence does not support this reality at all. They also take away from women the right to make informed medical decisions and instead institute a “gatekeeper” charged with “protecting” the woman from the pernicious forces of medical advice.
But an additional, and often overlooked problem with these measures blur the line between religion and state to a level that is very likely unconstitutional.
Crisis pregnancy centers are at their core anti-abortion fronts grounded in Christian-right anti-choice ideology. They almost always receive state funding and, through legislation such as what is pending in South Dakota, become de facto benefactors of the state and entangle the state into essentially sponsoring or endorsing a specific religious belief about abortion. And that is key as cpc’s don’t offer verified and accurate scientific evidence to buttress their recommendations.
So when the state anoints these religious-based crisis pregnancy centers to gatekeepers of access to reproductive health services it is forcing women to under go religious rather than medical counseling prior to accessing these services.
Even more disturbing, South Dakota admits this is what they are doing with this particular measure since one of the purposes of the bill is to help women cope “spiritually” with unintended pregnancies.
The First Amendment is clear that a state cannot find itself endorsing or “entangled” with a particular religious belief. But that is exactly what this South Dakota measure does. These lawmakers have decided that ministers and not doctors are the people best equipped to help women make a difficult medical decision. And that right there is constitutionally impermissible.
photo courtesy of alexandralee via Flickr