The lawyer for two South Dakota crisis pregnancy centers said their role in the upcoming legal battle over the state's latest attempt to restrict abortions will be essential to defending an abortion counseling law.

Harold Cassidy, a New Jersey attorney who specializes in anti-abortion lawsuits, represents the Black Hills Crisis Pregnancy Center, which operates as Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center in Rapid City, and the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls. The two crisis pregnancy centers recently won the right to intervene in Planned Parenthood's lawsuit against the state of South Dakota, which challenges the constitutionality of legislation passed by the 2011 Legislature requiring a woman to visit an anti-abortion center before undergoing an abortion.

Federal District Court Judge Karen Schreier ruled in late December that the two centers met the burden of proof to intervene in the case. That means their attorney will have the right to initiate discovery, take depositions, file briefs and attend the trial as full participants in the lawsuit.

Care Net, at 2411 W. Main St., Suite 2 in Rapid City, is one of three pregnancy centers that has registered with the state Department of Health to serve as a consultation site for women seeking abortions. Bella Pregnancy Resource Center in Spearfish also has registered with the state but did not join the lawsuit. Care Net provides free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and other resources and support for those facing an unplanned pregnancy. Care Net staff did not return calls for comment on its role in the lawsuit.

The two centers "bring the voice of these pregnancy centers to the lawsuit and the interests of those centers," said Rory King, an Aberdeen lawyer who serves as in-state counsel for Cassidy's New Jersey firm. Because there are about 700 abortions performed in South Dakota annually, the centers argued they could be denied access to that many clients by Planned Parenthood's lawsuit.

Cassidy said Care Net and Alpha Center's roles as interveners in the ongoing legal battle over the state's 2005 informed consent abortion law were "extremely important," and he expects the same will be true in the upcoming lawsuit over the 2011 counseling legislation, HB 1217.

"In my judgment, the interveners lent a great deal to the case," he said Friday, just four days after presenting oral arguments before the entire 11-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Those arguments centered on the 2005 law's provision that requires doctors to inform women that abortion leads to an increased risk of suicide.

"They work with women ... and understand the impact of abortion far better than anyone. They had a great deal of expertise to lend and were effective," Cassidy said.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota argued on Jan. 9 that there is no reliable data that proves abortion increases suicide or suicide ideation.

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"The scientific research is on our side," Sarah Stoesz, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota's president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "We are confident that the en banc court (the entire 8th Circuit Court of Appeals), after reviewing the merits of this issue, will uphold two prior decisions which held that the weight of reliable evidence says abortion does not subject women to an increased risk of suicide."

Not surprisingly, Cassidy disagreed. He predicted that the en banc review of a three-judge panel's ruling that supported Schreier's decision to strike down the suicide-warning may be a good sign for his clients. Having the full appeals court hear the case means it "believes we're presenting a really important issue of public policy," he said.

"It is a very rare instance when a court of appeals grants en banc review," he said. "It's preserved only for the most important public policy issues, and often only if perceived that the three-judge panel got that policy consideration wrong."

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While he prefaced his comments with the caveat that it is "always dangerous" to predict any court decision, he believes there is "very little chance the district court will be affirmed" and said he expects "some form of a reversal."

A decision in the 2005 lawsuit is expected in June or September, Cassidy said. He doesn't expect the 2011 lawsuit to be in litigation nearly so long.

"This case will be much shorter, for various reasons," he said, predicting it would hit the court of appeals in about 15 months.

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com.


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