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Committee kills pregnant minors bill amid parental rights concerns

A legislative panel has killed a bill that would have allowed prenatal or postnatal care to minors without a parents’ consent in some situations.

The House Health Human Services Committee voted down House Bill 1225Thursday in a 10 to three vote.

South Dakota law requires that parents attend health care appointments with children under 18. That includes pregnancy-related care.

Supporters of HB 1225 said this leads to some patients falling through the cracks. Rep. Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls, said there are cases where parents cannot be present, whether they are busy, unavailable, or mentally unable to give consent, leaving their daughters unable to get prenatal or postnatal care.

"We're seeing that doctors are really tasked with this question of whether they can provide prenatal care to these young women," Healy said. "And not being able to provide that care, we are putting young mothers and unborn babies at risk."

HB 1255 would have allowed pregnancy-related health care when a minor’s parents are unavailable or incapable of providing consent.

Several health organizations testified in support of the bill, saying it fills a gap in the state's health care coverage.

"This bill does not impede a parent's ability to have a say in the care of their minor child," said Ellie Bailey, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "This bill is meant to address those scenarios where parents are absent. And in those cases, the provider may be the only person who is actually showing up for this young mother."

During discussion, some legislators questioned whether pregnant minors in this situation are already protected under state law. Supporters of the bill said current law only allows health care providers to act without parental consent if the mother's life is in danger.

Opponents voiced concerns about parental rights. Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, said the language of the bill is too vague, and could lead to the minor's parents not being involved in medical decisions.

"I know there's the argument that sometime the parent isn't involved. But it's such a small sliver," Jensen said. "I wish the word 'unavailable' was much more specific. Sometimes we write laws that have unintended consequences."

Opponents also argued there isn’t enough data suggesting this is a problem in the state.

Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed similar legislation last year. Healy said she adjusted the language in this year's bill in a way she believed would be more palatable to the governor.

A member of Noem's cabinet, Health and Human Service Secretary Melissa Magstadt, testified in opposition to the bill. She said this type of legislation is backed by groups like Planned Parenthood that support legal abortion.

“They want parents out of the decision-making and support of their teenage daughters,” Magstadt said.  

But supporters of the bill said it’s not about abortion. Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the bill. She said groups opposed to legal abortion have backed similar bills in other states.

“We can’t let fear of Planned Parenthood or fear of these organizations that are pro-abortion drive decisions in our state," Rehfeldt said. "We should not be doing that. We should be driving our decisions with what’s best policy to keep moms and babies healthy.”

Josh Chilson is the news director at South Dakota Public Broadcasting. A Florence, S.D. native, Josh graduated with a journalism degree from South Dakota State University. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and videographer, and most recently as managing editor for Dakota News Now. Josh is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.