Republican lawmakers in South Dakota have killed a pro-life heartbeat bill supported by Gov. Kristi Noem (R), claiming that the bill could interfere with a separate ongoing lawsuit against Planned Parenthood.
During the governor's state of the state address in January, Noem proposed a fetal heartbeat bill modeled after Texas' Heartbeat Act, which prevents a woman from seeking an abortion after her unborn baby develops a heartbeat, usually sometime around six weeks. Her proposal was received with a standing ovation from the legislature, including every GOP member of the House State Affairs Committee, which oversees "policy decisions of overriding state concern."
However, on Wednesday the Republican-controlled House State Affairs committee refused to give the heartbeat bill a hearing, preventing it from being considered at all for the rest of the year.
The committee members, who say they are pro-life conservatives, told the Argus Leader that Noem's heartbeat bill would potentially jeopardize a pending lawsuit against Planned Parenthood in the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court. They claimed that this lawsuit has a chance to challenge the Supreme Court precedent in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions in 1973.
"I am as pro-life as can be, and because of that, I do not want to do something that will jeopardize our involvement in a court case that could abolish abortion in this country," said Republican House Speaker Spencer Gosch.
“It’s the Legislature’s job to legislate, not the governor’s,” he added. “What she had wasn’t a bill. It was language, and we said that it’s not going to be a bill, and therefore, it’s not going to be heard. End of discussion.”
Noem vehemently disagrees with the Republican leader's argument and has blasted the committee's decision to refuse to even give her heartbeat proposal a hearing.
“Every single life is precious and deserving of our protection — but apparently South Dakota legislators think otherwise,” the governor said. "It grieves me that they would take this unprecedented action at this time based on the advice of one out-of-state lawyer. National pro-life leaders believe that now is the time to have this sort of protection in law to save lives."
According to Noem's office, the governor was referring to Harold Cassidy, a New Jersey-based lawyer who previously defended South Dakota's 2005 Informed Consent Abortion Statute, a law that requires abortionists to inform women that an abortion takes the life of a "whole, separate, unique, living human being."
Cassidy's website describes him as "widely recognized as the leading attorney in the nation in protecting pregnant mothers against the excesses and abuses of an abortion industry.” It also states that he works as a consultant for pro-life legislators in various states, and Noem spokesman Ian Fury said he is advising Republican legislators.
The Daily Signal reported that the lawsuit at the center of Gosch's argument is Planned Parenthood v. Noem, a case involving a South Dakota law that requires women to consult with a crisis pregnancy center before they abort their unborn children. A federal judge blocked the law from taking effect in 2011 after the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state.
When Noem attempted to enforce the law in 2021, Planned Parenthood sued again, and a federal judge in August ruled the law does "infringe on women’s right to free speech secured in the First Amendment, and it presents an undue burden on a woman’s right to access abortion," according to the Daily Caller.
Noem's office disputes the claim that advancing a heartbeat bill would jeopardize the lawsuit with Planned Parenthood.
“Last year, there were 10 abortions in South Dakota before a heartbeat can be detected, so we do not believe this legislation would ‘moot’ Planned Parenthood v. Noem,” Fury told the Daily Signal.
“The only way that it possibly could [moot the lawsuit] would be if Planned Parenthood left the state entirely — in which case we would achieve our goal of protecting every unborn life in South Dakota, since Planned Parenthood runs the only abortion mill in the state,” he argued.
At a press conference Thursday, Noem said that debate about whether her heartbeat proposal would impact the lawsuit with Planned Parenthood should have been permitted to take place in the legislature.
"This is the first time in years that the legislature has refused to give a hearing to a bill. It was introduced under the same protocols, same mechanisms as every other bill governors have brought. This bill and myself were treated very differently than in the past," Noem told reporters.
She added that it is important for every bill to get a hearing in the legislature.
"This would have been a fantastic debate just to have in committee. And we can all disagree and still defend life. We can disagree on strategy. But let's have that in an open forum. And I, as governor, want to have a transparent process," Noem said. "What happened in Speaker Gosch's committee yesterday was not transparent."