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Your life or theirs? Putting an end to threats to coerce abortion

HB 1113 will prohibit threats made with the intent to coerce an abortion and to provide a penalty therefor.

The threats involved in the coercion of an abortion can be a hidden form of violence against women and children. Coercion of abortion can come from a sexual partner, boyfriend or husband, or even a teen or woman's own family.

Studies reflect there is evidence that many men resort to intimidation and violence to coerce women they've impregnated into aborting- women with abusive partners are substantially overrepresented among abortion patients.

A 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 7% of women who had abortions experienced sexual or physical abuse in the year before the abortion. That 7% in 2012 translated into 84,000 abortions a year occurring in relationships where the mother had been sexually or physically abused.

And women have reason to fear- according to a study published by Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2021, the number one leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide.

In New York, Christian Ferdinand killed and set fire to a 14-year-old girl he believed he had impregnated. A medical examiner determined the young victim wasn't even pregnant.

Ariel Castro of Cleveland kept three girls captive for more than a decade before they could escape. He beat and starved one captive until she miscarried- five times.

Nathaniel Dixon was given a life sentence in 2019 for the murder of Candace Pickens and attempted murder and malicious maiming of her three-year-old son Zachaeus. Prosecutors said Dixon twice shot Pickens and then shot her three-year-old son once on May 11, 2016. Nathaniel Dixon was upset that Pickens, who was in her first trimester of pregnancy, had not agreed to get an abortion. Dixon was believed to be the father.

The Guttmacher study found that more men than is commonly acknowledged exert "reproductive control" over their girlfriends and wives. For example, over 70% of women with abusive partners reported that their partner used verbal threats, physical aggression, or birth control sabotage to either force her to become pregnant or force her to abort. In a surprising number of cases, men would force pregnancy and then force abortion- an extraordinarily violent and effective method of abuse and control.

Coercion from a parent can be just as destructive. One woman, wishing to remain anonymous, describes the intimidation she faced from her mother—first to abort the child, then to keep silent about it. Initially relieved when her boyfriend agreed against aborting the baby, the girl shared her dread at hearing her mother's reaction to the pregnancy. "My mother was furious…. She hated me for what I had done. She took me immediately to have an abortion. 'Wait a minute…. I don't want an abortion.' I thought to myself. She said I had to do it. She took me and promised not to tell my father. I could not stand for him to know…. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I could not stand to look at myself in the mirror…. From that day on, I hated my mother. I turned to drugs, boys, sex, lies, and alcohol. I dropped out of school…."

According to JoAnne Crough, a licensed professional counselor at the Meier Clinics office in Pittsburgh, "This happens more often than you might think. In many cases, it's the teen or woman's parents who suggest this way of dealing with the pregnancy. They make it clear that an abortion will 'solve everything.' They typically keep the entire process as secretive as possible. The young woman in this situation is extremely vulnerable to being coerced to make the others in her life happy. She has upset those closest to her with the news of her pregnancy. She feels confusion, shame, and fear. She becomes isolated from other forms of support. Combined, these put tremendous pressure on her to comply."

This bill updates our forced abortion statute, which addresses coercing a woman to have an abortion through threats of homicide, murder, or manslaughter, assault, or kidnapping, resulting in an unborn child's death. HB 1113 establishes in law that the threat itself is a crime and clarifies penalties as either a Class B or Class 5 felony. The threat must be viewed as a severe crime because the abusive nature of coercion of abortion is a form of psychological, physical, and sexual violence. We need to ensure that health and safety for women and their unborn children in South Dakota is our priority and that threats with the intent of coercion of abortion is a crime.

Representative Tony Randolph is the prime sponsor in the House of Representatives, and I am the prime sponsor in the Senate. HB 1113 has the support of South Dakota Right to Life, the Family Heritage Alliance, Concerned Women of America, and the South Dakota Catholic Conference. This bill had its first hearing February 14, 2022 and passed out of committee. Next it will move on to the House, and if it continues will go to Senate Committee and onto the Senate.

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