Appeals court upholds SD abortion suicide advisory

July 24, 2012 - 3:36 PM
South Dakota Abortion

FILE - In this April 13, 2011 file photo, Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center crisis pregnancy center which seeks to persuade women not to seek abortions, shows a model of a 3-month-old fetus aboard the center's mobile pregnancy center in Sioux Falls, S.D. A portion of a 2005 South Dakota abortion law that requires a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she faces an increased risk of suicide is constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Unruh called Tuesday's court decision a victory for South Dakota women. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota can require doctors to warn women seeking abortions that they face an increased risk of suicide if they go through with the procedure, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the portion of the 2005 South Dakota law dealing with the suicide advisory 7-4.

"On its face, the suicide advisory presents neither an undue burden on abortion rights nor a violation of physicians' free speech rights," the court wrote in its majority opinion.

In September, a three-judge panel upheld U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier's decision to overturn the requirement following a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood. The decision Tuesday by the full 11-member court grants judgment to the state and vacates the permanent injunction against enforcing the provision.

The ruling ultimately was a battle of medical studies. Statistics show women who have had abortions have higher rates of suicide compared with women who have given birth, but the sides don't agree that there's a causal link between abortion and suicide.

The four dissenting judges said multiple studies cited failed to take into account factors such as pre-existing mental health issues, domestic violence and a young age at the time of pregnancy.

"The most reliable evidence in the record shows that abortion does not have a causal relationship to the risk of suicide and that South Dakota's mandated advisory is not truthful, but actually misleading," Circuit Judge Diana Murphy wrote for the dissenting side.

The state, in supporting the law passed seven years ago, disagreed, submitting several studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals to demonstrate a "statistically significant correlation between abortion and suicide." Planned Parenthood relied on another study to argue its belief that certain underlying factors, such as mental health issues, predispose women to have both unwanted pregnancies and suicidal tendencies.

Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota said in a statement that she is "extremely disappointed" by the federal court ruling, adding that no reputable scientific evidence shows a cause-effect relationship between abortion and suicide.

"This ruling by the 8th Circuit Court represents the greatest intrusion by the government into the patient doctor relationship to date," she said.

Leslee Unruh, the founder of the Alpha Center pregnancy counseling center in Sioux Falls, which seeks to persuade women not to seek abortions, applauded Tuesday's decision as one that benefits South Dakota women.

"We are thrilled. This has been a long time working from 2005. It's a long, long haul. We are so excited for the women of South Dakota that they have this victory," she said.

The suicide advisory was part of a larger law requiring South Dakota doctors to provide women seeking abortions with certain information. Doctors also must inform patients that that an abortion will terminate the life of a human being and that the woman has an existing relationship with the unborn human being under the law.

Tuesday's ruling was the final piece in the fight over the law's constitutionality.

"Now, essentially, the entirety of the 2005 legislation aimed at helping inform a woman of certain risks before an abortion will now be in place and all of it will be in effect," said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.

A law passed last year that requires women seeking abortions to wait 72 hours and undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions is tied up in court.

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