By Hilary White

PIERRE, South Dakota, August 24, 2009 ( – A Federal Court has upheld the constitutionality of a South Dakota law requiring doctors to inform patients that abortion kills a human being. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier handed down the ruling on Thursday in a lawsuit against the state filed by Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota objecting to the 2005 law requiring that full information be given to women seeking abortions.

Judge Schreier said that although doctors must use the term 'human being,' it can be used in a “biological sense” and not an “ideological” one. The law specifies that a woman must be told that abortion “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

In the same ruling Schreier, who had issued an order in 2005 preventing the law from coming into effect, overturned a requirement that women be informed that abortion increases the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. Schreier called these disclosure provisions “untruthful and misleading.”

Also struck down was a provision requiring doctors to tell a woman that she has an existing legally protected relationship with her unborn child. Schreier ruled that “in the legal context, a pregnant mother cannot have a 'relationship' with a 'human being,' as that word is defined in the statute.”

Both Planned Parenthood and the state of South Dakota are considering whether to appeal. “I think the most important part of the statute has been upheld,” Assistant Attorney General John Guhin said.

Sarah Stoesz, CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota said, “We're thrilled. It's a major victory for women in South Dakota and doctors who want to be free” from having to make ideologically charged statements.

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) who had authored and filed an amicus curiæ brief on behalf of the Family Research Council, said, “A woman's life is worth more than Planned Parenthood's bottom line, so we're pleased the abortion industry failed in its attempt to strike down this law.”

In a statement, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden commented, “We find it incredible, however, for the court to determine that the law cannot acknowledge that a 'pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being' because some human beings are somehow not 'persons.'”

“The court ruled that a woman has more of a relationship with the abortionist than her preborn baby. All human beings are persons,” Aden added.

Leslee Unruh, founder of the pro-life Alpha Center pregnancy counseling centre in Sioux Falls, an intervening party in the suit, said the ruling is a “huge, fatal blow” to the abortion lobby and a step forward in the “unraveling” of Roe v. Wade. Unruh told the New York Times that her organization will appeal the decisions on the suicide and relationship provisions.

“We take the human being part and go to the Supreme Court and put the human relationship in. That knocks out Roe v. Wade,” she said.

South Dakota recently attempted to ban abortion within the state entirely. In 2006 the state Legislature passed a bill that prohibited all abortion except in those cases where continuing a pregnancy would pose a medical threat to the mother's life. This measure was overturned by voters in the 2006 election by a margin of 56-44 per cent after abortion lobbyists ran a campaign focusing on the bill's exclusion of exceptions in cases of rape.

Another measure was attempted by the state that included the exceptions for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest as well as when there is “substantial risk” of serious permanent injury or death to the mother. This second attempt, Measure 11, was defeated in the November 2008 election after pro-life advocates were split over support for the measure.

Leslee Unruh, a leading supporter of Measure 11, said at the time it was a victory for abortion advocates whose only interest, she said, was not in the health of women but an ideological devotion to abortion on demand.

Read related coverage:

South Dakota Abortion Ban Defeated 


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