Department of Health: Abortions in South Dakota down in 2018, significantly lower than surrounding states

Anti-abortion protesters hold signs toward pedestrians and passing traffic Wednesday, July 11, 2018, outside the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo. Erin Bormett / Forum News Service
Ken Koehler, left, is among anti-abortion protesters holding signs on the street corner next to clinic escort volunteers Wednesday, July 11, 2018, near the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo. Erin Bormett / The Forum

RAPID CITY, S.D. — In the sharpest one-year drop seen in a decade, the number of abortion procedures performed in South Dakota in 2018 decreased by more than 23% compared to the previous year, continuing an overall downward trend in abortions performed in the state since 2008.

According to the state Department of Health's annual report on induced abortions , released Friday, June 28, 382 abortions were performed in the state in 2018, compared to 497 in 2017. Of those patients, 297 were South Dakota residents, and 154 were residents of Minnehaha County, where the state's sole abortion clinic is located.

The number follows the state's general downward trend in abortions for the past 10 years: According to the department's earliest records available online, 848 abortions were performed in the state in 2008 , showing an overall 55% decrease between 2008 and 2018.

In those 10 years, 2018 marked the greatest single-year percentage drop at 23%, with 2010-2011 and 2014-2015 following at 19% each.

Groups representing opposite sides of the political debate on abortion access had similarly opposite views of the report's findings, and attributed the decrease to different causes.


South Dakota Right to Life Executive Director Dale Bartscher said the anti-abortion access organization was "pleased" to see the reduction, calling it "significant but not unexpected due to the group diligently working statewide."

"Although this reduction of elective abortions is welcomed news, we will not rest until every human being is given the right to life in our great state of South Dakota," Bartscher said in a Friday written statement.

Planned Parenthood North Central States spokesperson Aleena Kaleem instead attributed the decrease to "the incredible barriers women in the state face when seeking abortion care, including an onerous 72-hour waiting period and often long-distance travel." Planned Parenthood operates the state's single abortion clinic, located in Sioux Falls.

"The barriers to abortion that women face in South Dakota are medically unnecessary and unfairly burden women who need to arrange child care or time away from work," Kaleen continued.

Planned Parenthood and the state have for years battled over the constitutionality of the state's informed consent laws, as well as the state's mandatory 72-hour waiting period and counseling for patients seeking abortions.

During the 2019 legislative session, the Legislature passed a bill introduced by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's office requiring patients seeking abortions to sign a 13-page consent form written and distributed by the state Department of Health. Noem said in a January statement that Planned Parenthood has been “muddying the waters” of informed consent and that Senate Bill 72 "puts an end to those games." Planned Parenthood contended that they meet the state's informed consent requirements, and that the form contained untrue and unnecessary information.

According to reports released recently by North Dakota and Minnesota, South Dakota's abortion numbers are significantly lower than its neighbors'. In North Dakota, 1,141 abortions were performed last year, and in Minnesota, 9,910 . Of those 9,910, 111 were performed on patients from South Dakota who traveled to Minnesota.

Last week's report also showed that the vast majority of abortions in South Dakota were performed prior to 12 weeks gestation. About 91% were performed on fetuses prior to 12 weeks gestation, and 9% on fetuses 13 weeks gestation or later. Except in cases of medical emergencies and cases of rape or incest, abortions are permitted in South Dakota up to 20 weeks.


Per the report, nearly 70% of patients who underwent abortion procedures last year had never had one prior, and under 20% had one prior. And more than 65% of patients already had "living" children, the report said.

The state's abortion form includes a checklist of reasons why the patient received an abortion. In 2018, nearly 64% of the patients said they "did not desire to have the child," and nearly 52% said they could not afford the child. Seventeen percent said their emotional health was at risk. Two percent were performed because of medical risk to the mother, and 1% were performed because of cases of rape or incest.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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