Health Advice



A government video would explain when abortion is legal in South Dakota

Arielle Zionts, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

South Dakota lawmakers want state officials to create an educational video to help doctors understand when they can end a pregnancy without risking prison time under the state’s near-total abortion ban.

It’s an example of how states are responding to the national controversy over what exceptions to abortion bans actually mean. Critics point to reports of women developing dangerous complications after hospitals in states with strict abortion laws refused to terminate their pregnancies.

South Dakota legislators are moving a bill that would direct the state Department of Health to work with the attorney general and health and legal experts to create educational material, including a video, and publish it on its website.

The legislation is the first of its kind in the country, according to Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion group.

The bill says the video would explain how South Dakota law defines abortion. Republican Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, who introduced the bill, said treatments for miscarriages or an ectopic pregnancy —when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus — do not count as abortions, and therefore are allowed.

The video would also discuss conditions that can threaten the life or health of a pregnant woman, and the criteria that providers might use to decide the best course of treatment. Rehfeldt said she expects the video to address when these medical conditions may need to be treated with an abortion, including how sick a patient needs to become.


Rehfeldt, a nurse anesthetist with a personal history of high-risk pregnancies, said she introduced the bill after hearing from health care providers who want guidance about the state’s abortion law.

“They said that they were confused and not sure when they can intervene,” Rehfeldt said. “I think it’s important that we provide that clarification because we all want moms to be taken care of.”

South Dakota has one of the nation’s strictest laws, prohibiting abortions unless they’re needed to save the life of a woman. There are no exceptions for preventing serious injury to the mother or in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, rape, or incest. Providing an illegal abortion is a felony that can be punished with two years in prison.

The state also has high rates of infant and maternal mortality, especially among Native Americans. Some South Dakota women have already been harmed because of the law after they were denied or received delayed abortions, according to Amy Kelley, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Sioux Falls.


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