N.D. Approves 'Personhood' Amendment for 2014 Ballot, Advances Other Abortion Restrictions

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).