ST. LOUIS – Abortion-rights advocates argued before an appeals court Thursday that a South Dakota law requiring abortion doctors to warn patients about the procedure forces physicians to give inaccurate information and infringes on their free-speech rights.
A panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard the challenge by Planned Parenthood of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. The law would require doctors to tell women that abortions end human lives and cause serious psychological problems.
A ruling isn't expected for weeks.
Planned Parenthood attorney Tim Branson said the law is untruthful because it refers to an embryo as a human being. Planned Parenthood has pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that an embryo is not a person.
The state argued last year that the law's requirement is medically accurate.
John Guhin, assistant attorney general for South Dakota, said Thursday that the law is "not a straitjacket" for doctors. He offered a sample letter that abortion doctors could give patients and essentially disassociate themselves from the state law.
Judge Raymond Gruender wondered if such a manuever was possible. "I don't see anything in the law that says a doctor can disassociate himself from the law," he said.
A lower court judge blocked the law a day before it was to go into effect last summer, ruling that it was an unconstitutional violation of free speech. The state appealed.
The law includes penalties of up to 30 days in jail and fines of $200 for doctors who refuse to follow it.
Earlier this year, South Dakota passed a law banning abortions in the state except to save a pregnant woman's life. A petition drive seeks to let the voters decide this fall whether to outlaw abortion.