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S. Dakota abortion law mandates counseling

The small sign outside the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls quietly announces a roster of available services: "Free pregnancy tests, abortion information, STD testing."

Inside the brick building, women can get a free ultrasound and hear about birth programs. But if you're a woman looking for help finding a legal abortion, you've come to the wrong place. Nowhere within this crisis pregnancy center will a visitor find help getting an abortion, in part because a new restrictive state law would make such referrals illegal.

The center that says its goal is to counsel and educate pregnant women is one of three statewide that have signed up so far to be a required stop for those seeking an abortion if South Dakota's new abortion law survives legal challenges.

The state's new law requires women seeking abortions to first participate in one free counseling session at a pregnancy help center, defined as an organization that does not offer abortion referrals but works "to educate, counsel and otherwise assist women [to keep] their relationship with their unborn children." The centers would determine whether a woman is being pressured to have an abortion, and provide information to help her give birth and keep a child.

The law also establishes the nation's longest waiting period at three days by prohibiting an abortion from being performed until 72 hours after a woman meets with an abortion clinic doctor. The doctor ultimately would determine whether she is being coerced.

Supporters say the law was necessary because many women are pressured to seek abortions by husbands, boyfriends or relatives.

But abortion rights supporters say no other state has such stringent counseling requirements and the law encourages coercion against abortion and amounts to yet another obstacle to obtaining a legal abortion.

Abortion-rights supporters filed suit to block the new law from taking effect July 1.

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