- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 11, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The state Health Department hasn’t received any reports or evidence that the sale of fetal tissue has occurred in South Dakota since the agency started regulating abortion facilities in 2006, the department confirmed Tuesday amid a national furor over Planned Parenthood.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, which runs South Dakota’s only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, said the organization doesn’t have a program in the state for the legal donation of fetal tissue from terminated pregnancies, and said it follows state and federal laws.

Three major South Dakota health systems that only terminate pregnancies in life-threatening or terminal circumstances said they don’t have programs for fetal tissue donation.

Attorney General Marty Jackley in mid-July inquired to the Department of Health after anti-abortion activists released undercover footage showing Planned Parenthood officials outside of South Dakota discussing their handling of fetal tissue.

“We made inquiry on both partial birth abortion and on the transfer and sale of tissue, and there are no reports, complaints or inspection records that would demonstrate any evidence (of) illegal activity in South Dakota at this time,” Jackley told The Associated Press. “Something can surface, and I’ve indicated if it surfaces, it’ll be examined … and addressed.”

The sale or transfer of fetal remains from an induced abortion is illegal under state law, but the donation of fetal tissue is permitted in the case of a spontaneous abortion if the mother consents, Jackley said. Health Department spokeswoman Barb Buhler said in an email that information about such donations isn’t reported to the agency.

Buhler said the department conducts an annual statistical inspection to make sure the abortion information that’s reported to the agency is accurate. The department also completes a facility inspection each year, and inspectors “have not seen any evidence of the sale of organs or tissue.”

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has been in contact with Jackley since the first video was released, Kelsey Pritchard, a spokeswoman for the governor, said. Pritchard said Daugaard “finds this disturbing and believes this matter should be taken seriously.”

She said that Daugaard knows lawmakers are considering legislation on the subject and will begin discussions with them as the 2016 legislative session approaches.

Rep. Fred Deutsch, a Republican from Florence, said he plans to introduce a measure that would make it a felony to sell fetal tissue.

Deutsch said he plans to meet with Jackley’s office and the Department of Health. He said he’s not sure anyone will know whether it’s happened in South Dakota “until somebody goes in with an undercover video like what’s been done elsewhere.

“I want a message to be sent out that South Dakota does not tolerate the business of selling fetal body parts from elective abortions,” he said. “Even if it’s never happened here before, that doesn’t mean we should not have a line drawn in the sand that you cannot do this, (that) we do not tolerate this in South Dakota.”

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