Abortion has been declining across the country for decades. Numbers have been especially low in South Dakota due to strict laws and the fact that there’s only one provider.
But 2020 saw an extreme decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 125 abortions, a 67 percent decrease from the previous record low set in 2018.
“It was actually pretty devastating not to be able to be available for our patients in South Dakota the way that we had been before, but we had systems in place to help get patients to other places outside of South Dakota,” said Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for the Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls and surrounding states.
Planned Parenthood decided in late March that it was too risky for its out-of-state doctors to travel to conduct the procedure in Sioux Falls, Traxler said.
The clinic remained open to provide birth control, STD testing, and other services but there were no abortions until October.
The state saw zero abortions from April through June, according to data from the Department of Health. There were three abortions between July through September that would have occurred at hospitals for medical reasons.
Some South Dakotans had to drive more than five hours for the procedure. Advocates say that means women might have to take time off work while paying for travel, childcare, and lodging.
Planned Parenthood and nonprofits were able to help some of these women with transportation and funding
South Dakotans faced barriers to abortion even before the pandemic, Traxler said.
Women can only have an abortion once they wait three days after having a consultation with the same doctor overseeing the procedure. Telehealth appointments for consultation or instructions on taking pills for medical abortions aren't allowed.
The waiting period does not include holidays or weekends, so a consultation on Friday would mean the procedure couldn't happen until the next Thursday.
The Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls provided abortions once a week before the pandemic, Traxler said. It offered the procedure once a month after re-starting the procedure in October 2020. The clinic has been providing abortions twice a month since May 2021 and will eventually return to the weekly appointments.