South Dakota Abortion-Suicide Advisory Lawful, Court Says

A South Dakota law requiring doctors to advise prospective abortion patients that they will face an increased risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts as a result of the procedure is lawful and can be enforced, a U.S. appeals court ruled.

The St. Louis-based court, which hears legal challenges from seven Midwest U.S. states, today reversed a 2-1 panel decision from last year. Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota argued that the law burdens both abortion rights and physicians’ free-speech rights.

The organization failed to persuade seven of the 11 judges on the full-court panel that the South Dakota requirement was untruthful, misleading or irrelevant.

“We hold that the disclosure facially mandated by the suicide advisory is truthful,” U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond W. Gruender wrote for the majority, citing “extensive evidence in the record” of increased risk.

The imparting of that information was part of a 2005 legislative act amending the state’s informed-consent requirements for abortions. Planned Parenthood’s St. Paul, Minnesota-based chapter sued that year.

A three-judge panel last year affirmed the decision by a federal judge in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, upholding a mandated advisory that an abortion terminates a human life. That panel also reversed part of U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier’s ruling that struck language describing the constitutionally-protected relationship between the patient and the fetus.

Minority Opinion

Circuit Court judges Diana E. Murphy and Michael J. Melloy last year voted to uphold Schreier’s decision to block the suicide advisory. Gruender dissented.

Murphy and Melloy adhered to their prior position on the suicide issue in today’s ruling. Two other circuit court judges joined their dissent.

“The record clearly demonstrates, however, that suicide is not a known medical risk of abortion,” Murphy wrote for the minority. “Suicide is caused instead by factors preexisting an abortion such as a history of mental illness, domestic violence, and young age at the time of pregnancy.”

Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive officer of the suing Planned Parenthood chapter, said in an e-mailed statement that the group is “extremely disappointed” by the court’s decision.

‘Scientific Evidence’

“Every reputable researcher and medical organization has determined that there is no sound scientific evidence that shows a cause and effect relationship between abortion and suicide” Stoesz said.

She called the measure “just one of many reprehensible barriers that South Dakota politicians are determined to impose on women seeking safe and legal health care.”

State Attorney General Marty Jackley said the ruling preserves state legislators’ objectives.

“This is the fourth time that we have successfully defended the desire of the Legislature” before the appeals court, he said in a telephone interview.

Those legislators sought to ensure women are “informed as to the medical and health risks of an abortion procedure,” Jackley said.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota v. Rounds, 09-3231, 3233, 3362, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (St. Louis).

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