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Court backs S.D. law on relationship with fetus

By Kristi Eaton
Associated Press / September 3, 2011

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - South Dakota can require doctors to tell women who seek abortions that they have an “existing relationship’’ with their fetus that is protected by law and that they can not be forced to undergo the procedure, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The US Court of Appeals overturned US District Judge Karen Schreier’s ruling two years ago, in which she struck down the requirement, which is part of a larger law requiring South Dakota doctors to provide women with certain information before an abortion can be deemed voluntary.

The law mandates that the doctor must tell an abortion seeker that she “has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota.’’

Schreier found the wording misleading because she said a relationship, in the eyes of the law, can only exist between people and the US Supreme Court has ruled that the unborn are not legally considered people.

The appeals court disagreed with Schreier’s reasoning, agreeing with the state’s argument that doctors would be providing patients with valid legal advice - that they cannot be compelled to have an abortion - allowing patients to make more informed decisions.

The court upheld Schreier’s decision to overturn another aspect of the law that would have required doctors to tell patients that people who have abortions are more likely to commit suicide.

Both the state and Planned Parenthood, which challenged the law, praised yesterday’s ruling.

Mimi Liu, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said the group believes the court has ruled that doctors must only inform patients of that one sentence written in the appeals court’s decision.

“We think this decision can be read to say that is all that is required,’’ 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, called the decision regarding the existing relationship advisory “monumental.’’

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