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Lawmakers OK pregnancy help center rules

PIERRE, S.D. — Pregnancy help centers that might eventually provide required counseling to women seeking abortions should not be allowed to profit from lining up adoptions, South Dakota lawmakers decided Tuesday.

The Senate voted 26-9 to pass a measure that has already been approved by the House. It will become law if signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

A 2011 law requires women seeking abortions to get counseling at pregnancy help centers, which discourage abortions, before they can terminate a pregnancy. The counseling requirement, imposed to determine whether a woman is being coerced into getting an abortion, is still being challenged in federal court, where a judge has temporarily blocked it from taking effect.

Under the bill passed Tuesday, the centers would be required to refer women to other organizations for adoption services rather than making such placements themselves.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said the requirement would ensure that pregnancy help centers are not biased toward adoption when they counsel women who have sought abortions. A woman receiving the counseling faces a choice of having abortions, giving a child up for adoption or keeping the child herself, he said.

“What we want to do is make that a very neutral place,” Novstrup said.

Supporters of the measure have not said whether they believe it will help the state defend the counseling requirement in court.

Abortion rights advocates have said they believe pregnancy help centers will not provide neutral counseling, but instead will pressure women not to get abortions.

Sen. Angie Buhl O’Donnell, D-Sioux Falls, said she was adopted as a child and believes it might be good to have agencies involved in adoptions provide the required counseling to women contemplating abortions.

Buhl O’Donnell said the Legislature usually avoids changing laws that are being challenged in court, so the measure passed Tuesday “could be a little bit ahead of its time.”

But Novstrup said the bill merely corrects a mistake made when the original counseling law was passed three years ago.

Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said he was bothered by the bill because it would prevent adoption agencies from being involved in counseling women. Such counseling could result in children being put up for adoption, he said.

Novstrup said the bill does not prevent a woman from going to an agency that can help her place a child for adoption.

Only two organizations have registered with the state so far to become pregnancy help centers: Care Net in Rapid City and the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls. Novstrup said more will register if courts allow the counseling to take place.