WASHINGTON (AP) — South Dakota’s Republican governor pledged on Sunday to bar mail-order abortion pills but said women should not face prosecution for seeking them.
Kristi Noem indicated in national television interviews that she would put in place a plan approved by state lawmakers to restrict the pills. The majority ruling Friday by the Supreme Court triggered abortion bans in South Dakota and elsewhere.
But Noem said doctors, not their patients, would likely be prosecuted for knowing violations of what would be one of the strictest laws on abortion pills in the United States.
“I don’t believe women should ever be prosecuted," she said. “I don’t believe there should be any punishment for women, ever, that are in a crisis situation or have an unplanned pregnancy."
At issue is mail-order or so-called telemedicine abortion pills, which have been on the rise in the country since 2000 when the Food and Drug Administration approved mifepristone — the main drug used in medication abortions.
More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now done with pills, not surgery, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Abortion pills are expected to become in higher demand as over half the states are likely to move to ban abortions following the Supreme Court's decision.
Noem, a strong pro-life advocate who faces reelection in November and is mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential contender, said the distribution of abortion pills is unsafe and has called a special session to craft new laws.
“These are very dangerous medical procedures,” said Noem, referring to abortion pills. “We don’t believe it should be available, because it is a dangerous situation for those individuals without being medically supervised by a physician.”
The South Dakota law, passed in March, requires women seeking an abortion to make three separate trips to a doctor in order to take abortion pills and makes it clear that women in the state cannot get the pills through a telemedicine consultation.
The FDA last year lifted a long-standing requirement that women pick up abortion pills in person. Federal regulations now also allow mail delivery nationwide. Even so, roughly 19 states have passed laws requiring a medical clinician to be physically present when abortion pills are administered to a patient.
South Dakota is among them, joining several states, including Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Republicans have moved to further restrict access to abortion pills in recent months.
One portion of the South Dakota law, which will take effect in July, contains a section that does not hinge on the federal courts: increasing to a felony the punishment for anyone who prescribes medication for an abortion without a license from the South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners.
A broader court decision is pending in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
Noem spoke on ABC's “This Week” and CBS' “Face the Nation.”
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