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Just Who Is Paying to Defend Anti-Choice Laws in South Dakota?

Written by Robin Marty for News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When the South Dakota legislature passed H.B. 1217, creating a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for an abortion and forcing women to undergo counseling at non-medical, faith-based crisis pregnancy centers, Governor Dennis Daugaard took his time before signing the bill into law.  Why the wait?  According to news reports, he wanted time to figure out how to cover the legal expenses in the inevitable law suits forcing the state to defend what most experts on both sides saw as an unconstitutional encroachment on a woman’s right to choose, as well as a possible violation of separation of church and state.

According to the governor, a "private donor" then pledged to provide funding to cover the costs of the legislation.

Signing the bill in private, Gov. Daugaard released a statement saying:

”I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.” 

The people not making good choices would be the legislators that passed the bill, and the governor who signed it into law under the promise that private funds would be available to defend the restrictions in court.

Covering the cost of the suit is of vital importance for the state.  South Dakota has defended and lost numerous court cases in attempting to restrict abortion rights, paying out over half a million dollars in court costs to Planned Parenthood over the last 15 years because in these cases the state had to reimburse the organization for attorneys fees.

But there is a great deal of enthusiasm in the legislature around the bill, and its key sponsor, Rep. Roger Hunt has offered to solicit donations for a defense fund in order to ensure the governor signed it.  Also believed to be fundraising for its defense is Leslee Unruh, founder of Alpha Center, a spirited lobbyist for H.B. 1217 and a pregnancy help center owner whose group is already providing trainings in anticipation of the new mandate, scheduled to go into effect July 1st.

The primary worry for many in the legislature is that this isn’t the first time sponsors have offered to raise money for legal defense for anti-abortion bills, and pledges aren’t the same as actual dollars. ... Read more