March 25, 2013 — As part of votes on four antiabortion-rights bills on Friday, the North Dakota House approved a resolution (ND 4009) authorizing a 2014 ballot measure that would enshrine in state law the notion that life begins at conception, the AP/Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reports. If approved by voters, the measure would effectively outlaw abortion in the state (MacPherson, AP/Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 3/24).
The resolution will ask voters whether the state constitution should be amended to protect the "inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development." House lawmakers defeated a Senate-passed bill (SB 2303) that would have defined a human being "as an individual member of the species of homo sapiens at every stage of development" (Winter, USA Today, 3/22).
House lawmakers voted to advance two other Senate-approved bills. The first would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. The second measure (SB 2305) would require that physicians who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges at a nearby hospital (AP/Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 3/24).
The latest votes came about a week after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed two bills that would ban abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy (HB 1456) and prohibit abortions sought because of genetic defects (HB 1305) (USA Today, 3/22).
As of Friday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) had not received any of the bills, according to his staff (AP/Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 3/24). The resolution will go directly to voters and does not require the governor's signature. Once the other bills reach Dalrymple's desk, he has three days to make a decision.
Reaction From Abortion-Rights Supporters
Abortion-rights supporters pledge to challenge any of the bills if they become law. They noted that Roe v. Wade established a right to an abortion until a fetus is considered viable, usually about 24 weeks, according to the New York Times (Eligon, New York Times, 3/22). Sarah Stoesz -- president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota -- said the measures would force the state into "a series of expensive and needless (court) battles" (Thompson, Reuters, 3/22).
Planned Parenthood also noted that voters in Colorado, Ohio, Mississippi and Oklahoma have rejected personhood ballot measures. Stoesz said, "Politicians in North Dakota are wasting taxpayer time advancing what would no doubt become another divisive constitutional amendment with dangerous unintended consequences for North Dakota families" (USA Today, 3/22).
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, called it "unconscionable" for state lawmakers to put "their own state through another ballot initiative that does absolutely nothing to advance the well-being of the people of that state" (New York Times, 3/22).
New York Times, Daily Beast Op-Eds Criticize N.D. Abortion Restrictions
Recent opinion pieces in the New York Times and Daily Beast responded to the passage of antiabortion-rights measures in North Dakota and other states. Summaries appear below.
~ Bill Keller, New York Times: Op-ed columnist Keller, a former executive editor of the Times, discusses increasingly frequent examples of "state[s] veering off the mainstream" on abortion rights, gun laws and other issues. He notes that both an Arkansas measure banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy and the North Dakota proposal to ban abortion after six weeks are "expected to be ruled unconstitutional." He asks, "Is North Dakota that much more conservative than, say, South Dakota, where abortions are permitted up to 24 weeks?" Keller weighs the opinions of various academics and journalists who have sought "to explain why our supposedly indivisible nation seems so intractably divided." For example, Keller examines an idea proposed by Samuel Abrams -- a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence University and Stanford University -- that Americans' political apathy allows "motivated, well-financed and sometimes extreme elites [to capture] the lawmaking process in many state capitals." Adams argues that politicians "tend not be representative of the masses at all," Keller notes. Keller applies this and other related theories to the Arkansas measure -- which he calls "the triumph of a single, entrepreneurial Tea Party state senator" -- but also suggests that this pattern of lawmaking helps give states "a useful role as laboratories of policy. These experiments may produce smart ideas that deserve to be replicated at the national level. ... Or the state labs may cook up poisons ... and you pray that Congress or the courts will find an antidote" (Keller, New York Times, 3/24).
~ North Dakota Rep. Kathy Hawken (R), Daily Beast: Hawken writes that even though she is "personally ... pro-life," she "vote[s] pro-choice, because decisions about pregnancy are complex and personal." Hawken criticizes her Republican colleagues for supporting a proposed "fetal personhood amendment, which would grant legal personhood rights to embryos at the moment of fertilization" and, if approved by voters, "effectively outlaw abortion in the state." She urges lawmakers "in North Dakota and in the statehouses around the country to re-attune their focus to the fiscal and economic benefits of making sure every American woman has access to the preventive health care she needs, including birth control, so she can avoid an unintended pregnancy and stay healthy" (Hawkins, Daily Beast, 3/24).