Governor Kristi Noem is making a big deal of pushing fathers to support the eggs they fertilize. But I’m not sure her bill changes much.
Senate Bill 75, introduced to gubernatorial fanfare last week by Senator David Wheeler (R-22/Huron), revises the provisions related to parental support for expenses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Current statute says that dad and mom “are jointly and severally liable to pay the expenses of the mother’s pregnancy and confinement.” SB 75 elaborates in Section 1, saying dad and mom have equal responsibility to pay “the reasonable expenses related to the mother’s pregnancy or prenatal care for the child, labor and delivery of the child, and postpartum recovery and any medical complications arising from pregnancy with the child.”
“Confinement” seems an old-fashioned term properly replaced. But while I appreciate the update and specification SB 75 offers, the brief terms of existing statute, “pregnancy and confinement”, seem to encompass everything that SB 75 would make explicit. Having those words in statute may make it harder for Senator Tom Pischke’s angry-dad constituents to lawyer their way out of paying moms’ medical bills, but SB 75 does not seem to substantially change the paternal obligations the state already recognizes.
Sections 2 through 5 of SB 75 clarify the legal procedure for forcing dads to pay pregnancy support, but like Section 1, these provisions don’t appear to substantially change the legal burdens fathers may face.
South Dakota’s radical right-wing leaders will point to Senate Bill 75 as evidence that they are working to protect women from any harmful impacts of the pregnancies they are forcing on women with their near-total abortion ban. But SB 75 appears to be the only substantive legislation filed so far even remotely related to the impacts of South Dakota’s near-total abortion ban. There is no bill to reinstate exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the mother. There is no bill expanding health care benefits or family leave for moms or dads.
And there certainly is not and never can be any kind of legislation that would subject men to the same burden that women face from an unwanted pregnancy. With or without Senate Bill 75, a man can still cause a pregnancy and walk away. If the pregnant woman can find him and subject him to a paternity test, the man can still just write a check and keep walking. No legislation can force a man to allow the implantation of a growing organism into his gut and require him to leave that organism growing and feeding off his body for nine months and then deliver that organism through a relatively small hole in his body or through an opening created by a surgeon’s knife.
Senate Judiciary hears SB 75 on Thursday morning at 7:45 a.m. in Capitol Room 413.