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Federal appeals court upholds mandatory suicide advisory for abortions

An 11-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] part of a South Dakota abortion law [HB 1166 materials] that requires doctors to inform women seeking abortions that they face an increased risk of suicide as a result of the procedure. The full panel re-heard the case solely on the issue of the suicide advisory after a three-judge panel last year upheld other portions of the law [JURIST report] but struck down the suicide advisory. Planned Parenthood Federation of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota [advocacy website], which brought the suit, had argued that evidence linking suicide to abortion is inconclusive. In a 7-4 decision, the court determined that it was not enough to suggest medical uncertainty in order to strike down the law. Instead, the court found that in order to strike down the suicide advisory, Planned Parenthood had to show "that abortion has been ruled out, to a degree of scientifically accepted certainty, as a statistically significant causal factor in post-abortion suicides." The majority said in its decision that because the evidence did not show with medical certainty that abortions do not lead to increased risk of suicide, the law should be upheld. The court also found that the advisory requirement did not violate the First Amendment [text] rights of doctors.

The informed consent law was originally passed [JURIST report] in 2005 but has faced years of court challenges and appeals. The decision of the three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit last year upheld most of the law, including a provision that requires doctors to tell patients prior to an abortion "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" and that "by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated." A judge for the US District Court for the District of South Dakota last month upheld an injunction [JURIST report] against a different South Dakota abortion law, but allowed one section, requiring doctors to certify that a woman has not been "coerced" into making her decision, to go into effect. The most controversial parts of the law, including a provision requiring a 72-hour waiting period before obtaining the procedure, remain blocked. Last Year, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota succeeded in obtaining a preliminary injunction against the law [JURIST report]. The law was passed [JURIST report] in March 2011.

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