Sex & Relationships

Christian Intruders: New Law Will Force Women to Listen to Religious Lectures Before Getting an Abortion

South Dakota hit a triple, attacking reproductive rights, privacy rights and religious freedom with a law aimed at the state's one remaining abortion clinic.

In our new era of relentless, abusive laws aimed at curtailing women’s reproductive rights, it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd, but South Dakota managed to do just that on Tuesday, when Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law a bill requiring a three-day waiting period -- the longest waiting period in the nation -- for any woman seeking abortion.

But even that is not what makes this law stand out. That honor goes to the requirement that women seeking abortion must go to a crisis pregnancy center, to submit to a lecture on the supposed evils of abortion; a lecture that will almost surely include misinformation on the dangers of abortion. In passing this law, South Dakota hit a triple, attacking reproductive rights, privacy rights and religious freedom with one law aimed at the single abortion clinic left in the entire state of South Dakota.   

That the anti-choice movement is mostly a Christianist movement bent on imposing its religious beliefs on the public at large is one of the most under-discussed aspects of the abortion debate. This law should highlight the theocratic underpinnings of the anti-choice movement. Most and probably all crisis pregnancy centers are religious organizations that object to abortion because it conflicts with their religious dogma about female sexuality, women’s roles, and their belief about when the soul enters the body. Requiring women to sit through a lecture on Christian ethics about sexuality before getting an abortion should be a clear-cut case of a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, even if the crisis pregnancy centers are careful to avoid saying the word “Jesus” too much.   

Republican state senator Al Novstrup claimed the bill is somehow protective of women, offering them a “second opinion,” which indicates not just his disrespect for religious freedom but his profound ignorance of options counseling typical to abortion clinics, especially Planned Parenthood, which runs the sole abortion clinic in the state. I don’t imagine he’d see it that way if the state required citizens to hear a “second opinion” about other private decisions based on personal religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Would Novstrup enjoy having to listen to a lecture from an atheist or Muslim group before joining a church, getting married or making plans for his own funeral? Why then is it appropriate to force women to listen to religious lectures before making a decision that involves their own religious beliefs about life? 

The use of the term “second opinion” is especially insulting, because unlike abortion clinics, crisis pregnancy centers are not medical centers that fall under the ethical guidelines that regulate actual health care providers. That is why this law is a blatant violation of the right to privacy. A woman who goes to a crisis pregnancy center is not only required to provide her own name, but also her reasons for having an abortion and the name of her doctor. Medical offices must, by law, keep this kind of information private under HIPAA regulations, but since crisis pregnancy centers aren’t clinics, they don’t have to play by the rules. Will women who get abortions have their names and addresses put on lists and distributed to anti-choice activists? There’s a very strong possibility of this, especially considering the history of anti-choicers violating women’s right to privacy.  We’ve already seen the worst that can happen when doctors’ private information is provided to rabid anti-choicers.

As with all other harassing regulations on abortion clinics, this one is primarily a matter of making abortion access nearly impossible for many women. Since many South Dakota abortion patients have to take time off work, arrange childcare and lodging, and travel hundreds of miles to Sioux Falls, forcing them to wait another 72 hours and also find a crisis pregnancy center to suffer religious sermonizing will increase the expense and the burden of the procedure exponentially. For women who don’t live in Sioux Falls, this law could create burdens to access that are insurmountable.   

But this law really goes beyond that. This is more than an attack on women having abortions or women in general, though of course that’s reason enough to oppose it.  This law is using abortion as a canary in the coal mine to undermine everyone’s basic rights to medical privacy and freedom of religion. What South Dakota is doing is creating a system where those considered heretical by the Christian right, either for having different beliefs or making choices outside of fundamentalist standards, have to submit themselves to a panel of religious busybodies who will record the heretic’s information in a ledger to be filed away for future use. Anyone who values religious freedom and the right to privacy should stand up against this law in South Dakota, and against all religious incursions against women's right to reproductive self-determination.

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