SD gov: Ban abortion pills but don’t penalize women for them

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WASHINGTON– South Dakota’s Republican governor on Sunday vowed to ban the mailing of abortion pills, but said women shouldn’t be prosecuted for seeking them.

In apparent defiance of legal guidance from the Justice Department after the Supreme Court overturned women’s constitutional protections from abortion last week, Kristi Noem hinted in nationwide television interviews that she would implement a pill restriction plan approved by state lawmakers. The majority ruling by the court’s conservative judges Friday sparked abortion bans in South Dakota and elsewhere.

But Noem said doctors, not their patients, would likely be prosecuted if they knew of violations of one of the toughest abortion pill laws in the United States.

“I don’t think women should ever be prosecuted,” she said. “I don’t think there should ever be any punishment for women who are in a crisis situation or have an unplanned pregnancy.”

It’s about mail-order, or so-called telemedicine, abortion pills that have been on the rise in the country since 2000, when the Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone — the main drug used in medical abortions.

More than 90% of abortions occur in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now performed using pills, not surgery, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that campaigns for abortion rights uses. Demand for abortion pills is expected to increase as more than half of the states are likely to move to banning abortions following the Supreme Court decision.

Noem, a strong opponent of abortion rights who faces re-election in November and has been named as a possible presidential candidate for 2024, has called the distribution of abortion pills unsafe and has called a special session to draft new legislation.

“These are very dangerous medical procedures,” Noem said, referring to abortion pills. “We don’t think it should be available because it’s a dangerous situation for these individuals without medical supervision by a doctor.”

In a state where Republicans hold supermajorities in both state houses, South Dakota lawmakers have introduced proposals that would also make it harder for women to seek an out-of-state abortion. South Dakota voters rejected outright bans in 2006 and 2008, and abortion-rights advocates are preparing for a similar referendum on abortion access.

In a statement Friday, President Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will protect abortion providers and those seeking abortions in states where it is legal and “work with other arms of the federal government who are trying to protect their… lawful authorities to protect and maintain access to reproductive care.”

“Specifically, the FDA has approved the use of the drug mifepristone,” he added. “States may not ban mifepristone if they disagree with the FDA’s expert judgment of its safety and efficacy.”

South Dakota’s law, passed in March, requires women seeking an abortion to make three separate doctor’s visits to take abortion pills and clarifies that women in the state cannot obtain the pills through a telemedicine consultation. The law was suspended after a federal judge ruled in February that it likely “imposed an unreasonable burden on a person’s right to an abortion.”

Two drugs are needed. The first, mifepristone, blocks a hormone needed to sustain a pregnancy. A second drug, misoprostol, taken a day or two later, drains the uterus. Both drugs are available as generics and are also used to treat other conditions.

The FDA last year lifted a long-standing requirement that women pick up abortion pills in person. Federal regulations now also allow nationwide mail delivery. Despite this, about 19 states have enacted laws requiring a medical clinician to be physically present when abortion pills are administered to a patient.

South Dakota is among them, joining several states including Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Republicans have further restricted access to abortion pills in recent months.

Part of South Dakota’s law, which goes into effect in July, includes a section that doesn’t depend on the federal courts: increasing the penalty for anyone who prescribes drugs for an abortion without permission from the South Dakota Board of Directors to one Crime Medical and Osteopathic Examiners.

A more comprehensive court decision is still pending following the ruling by the Supreme Court.

Noem spoke on ABC’s This Week and CBS’ Face the Nation.

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Associated Press writer Stephen Groves of Sioux Falls, South Dakota contributed to this report.

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For AP’s full coverage of the Supreme Court abortion ruling, visit https://apnews.com/hub/abortion

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