Committee Deadlocked on SD Gov. Kristi Noem's Latest Push Against Abortion Medication

The South Dakota legislature's Rules Review Committee was left deadlocked Monday, delaying its decision on whether to pass a rule adding more requirements on women looking to receive abortion pills.

Under current state law, women must have two visits with a doctor, get a written statement saying it's possible the abortion can be stopped by not taking the second pill and wait at least three days before receiving the pills.

The new rule, proposed by the state's health department and initiated by Governor Kristi Noem via executive order, would require a third doctor's appointment where the pregnant woman is monitored as she takes the second pill. It would also require patients to obtain the pills within the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

The committee was sitting at a 3-3 vote Monday, with two Democrats and a Republican voting against the rule. The two Democrats argued implementing the rule by executive order set a bad precedent. The Republican, Senator Timothy Johns, said the necessity of a third doctor's visit was not made clear enough.

The lawmakers did not want to send the rule back to the Department of Health for edits, but also did not want the department to file the rule with the Secretary of State without the committee's approval.

Instead, they decided to revisit the decision next month, also asking the Department of Health to provide a reason as to why a patient taking their second abortion pill at the doctor's office is necessary.

Kristi Noem, South Dakota, governor
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is pushing for a rule that would require three separate doctor's visits in order to obtain abortion pills and would require them to be obtained in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Above, Noem speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Only Texas has an earlier ban on abortion medication, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. South Dakota's rules proposal has been decried by abortion-rights advocates as unconstitutional and an overreach of the governor's executive power.

The Republican governor initiated the rules change, arguing that restrictions on abortion pills are necessary for the safety of women. As the Supreme Court has re-examined Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a nationwide right to an abortion, it has spurred a flurry of state-by-state skirmishes over abortion access. Noem has made it clear she wants abortion eventually outlawed.

Her executive order came amid the Food and Drug Administration permanently eliminating a long-standing requirement that women pick up abortion medication in person. In South Dakota, roughly one-third of abortions have been performed with drugs in recent years.

"Medication abortion is incredibly safe and effective," Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States, wrote in a letter to the Department of Health.

She added that the FDA has acknowledged complications are "extremely rare," but that the proposed rule makes it more likely that patients wouldn't be able to return to Planned Parenthood's clinic — the state's lone abortion clinic — to take the second drug.

The rule would be an unconstitutional violation of the right to an abortion, Traxler argued, as well as hurt the Department of Health's goal of "protecting the health and safety of South Dakotans."

However, Lynne Valenti, a deputy secretary for the Department of Health, called medication-induced abortions "a potentially dangerous procedure that is ending the life of an unborn child."

"Until we can make abortion completely illegal in this state, we better do what we can do to make sure that pregnant mothers are at least protected," said Republican Representative Jon Hansen as the legislature's Rules Review Committee debated approving the proposal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.