- Associated Press - Thursday, February 29, 2024

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Thursday approved the creation of a video to outline the state’s abortion laws and to clarify when health care providers are legally allowed to intervene.

The bill passed by the state Senate in a 31-3 vote is also intended for the general public and would require the state Department of Health, which answers to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, to create the informational video “and other materials” by Sept. 1. Creation of the video would take place in consultation with the state attorney general and legal and medical experts, describing how the state’s abortion laws should be applied.

The bill previously passed in the House by a 63-6 margin, and now heads to Noem.

South Dakota outlaws all abortions except to save the life of the mother under a trigger ban that took effect in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Republican Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt said she brought the bill for clarity to providers who had questions about when they could intervene to save the life of a mother.

The bill seeks to provide clarification without “the noise of politics around the abortion issue,” Rehfeldt said last week during an interview with The Associated Press. Efforts to clarify or redefine the statute itself likely would have failed, having little consensus around the issue, she said.

Republican Sen. Erin Tobin told a Senate panel on Wednesday that a video could be used by hospitals and health care systems “to review their policies and to educate all employees” and would be “an actual way to battle misinformation in the state of South Dakota.” The video will be publicly accessible online, she said.

But “there will not be specific (pregnancy complication) circumstances in this video. That’s the problem with health care, is that there are so many different circumstances that you have to allow doctors discretion,” Tobin said.

She also said she didn’t know whether the video will have a legal disclaimer.

Sanford Health, a South Dakota-based health care system, asked the panel to support the bill. Senior legislative affairs specialist Ally Brandner said, “At Sanford, we realize that we are entrusted with both the life of the pregnant mother and the child, and we appreciate the sponsor’s efforts to provide clarity around our abortion (laws).”

Noem spokesman Ian Fury, who is the governor’s “unborn child advocate,” said the administration will make the proposed video and materials available on South Dakota’s pregnancy resource website “to make sure that we are offering peace and knowledge to moms, families and the general public and that they can access those resources as well.”

American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota Advocacy Manager Samantha Chapman said the bill “does not solve the fundamental problem that we’re facing here, which is that our underlying statutes are too vague to reasonably inform a medical practitioner as to what they are legally allowed to do in an emergency.”

The video’s budget is expected to be $50,000, but it might cost less, Health Secretary Melissa Magstadt told the Senate panel.

A proposed ballot initiative would place abortion rights in South Dakota’s constitution. The Legislature inked its official opposition to the measure earlier this month with a resolution against it.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Reynold Nesiba said the video bill would open the state to litigation for attempting to influence the measure’s election outcome.

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