Injunction blocks South Dakota abortion pill restriction

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction against a South Dakota rule that would make the state one of the hardest places in the U.S. to get abortion pills.

U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier issued the injunction late Tuesday against a rule pushed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem that would have required abortion-seekers to make three separate visits to a doctor to take abortion pills. Schreier previously issued a temporary restraining order last month to keep the state from implementing the rule.

Women in South Dakota can currently get both drugs in the two-dose medication-induced abortion regimen during a single visit and take the second dose at home.

Schreier, who was appointed under former President Bill Clinton, granted Planned Parenthood’s request for the injunction, writing that the rule “likely imposes an undue burden on Planned Parenthood and its patients’ right to seek an abortion.”

Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s only clinic that regularly provides abortions, argued that the rule would have ended its ability to provide medication-induced abortions.

“Medication abortion is safe, common and essential health care,” Sarah Stoesz, the president of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement. “It is imperative that every person who decides that an abortion is the best decision for them are able to access the care they need, when they need it.”

Noem last year issued an executive order to clamp down on abortion pills in anticipation of the FDA permanently lifting a requirement that people seeking the drugs pick them up in person. The agency said a scientific review supported broadening access, including no longer limiting the dispensing of them to a small number of specialty clinics and doctors’ offices.

Noem has argued that the FDA’s policy would endanger women seeking an abortion.

“They can literally get on the phone or online and request a prescription and undergo this medical procedure in their home with no supervision whatsoever,” she told reporters at a news conference last month, although the state already requires abortion-seekers to consult with a doctor twice in person before receiving the medication.

In fact, the FDA has found complications from the medication to be rare. About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are done through medication rather than surgery, and the FDA has reported only 26 deaths associated with the drug since 2000, though not all of those can be directly attributed to the medication due to existing health conditions and other factors.

Noem has pushed a bill this year that would enact her rule into law. That bill has not yet been considered by lawmakers, but Republican legislators last week rejected a separate proposal from Noem to further clamp down on abortion access.

Stephen Groves
Stephen Groves
Stephen covers Congress in Washington.