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Experts Say N.D. Personhood Measure Could Have Drastic Effects on Health Care Services

October 24, 2014 — A "personhood" amendment (Measure 1) on the North Dakota ballot next month could have a widespread impact on health care services in the state, Modern Healthcare reports.

While the amendment has been primarily viewed as a measure to limit abortion rights, some experts argue that its broad language could allow the state government to interfere in other medical services, like end-of-life care.

The amendment would change the state's constitution to state that "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected." North Dakota would be the only state with such a law if the ballot measure is approved.

'Unprecedented' Effects

Supporters of the amendment have dismissed claims that it would affect health care services other than abortion.

However, University of North Dakota School of Law constitutional law professor Steven Morrison said the amendment's effect would be "unprecedented," adding that it could lead to in vitro fertilization providers being charged with murder and invalidate documents like living wills and end-of-life directives. In addition, Morrison said the state government could be required to provide life-sustaining care to all state residents, regardless of their medical conditions.

Further, some health care providers have wondered what could happen to them if they provide care that saves a pregnant woman's life but threatens the fetus. One obstetrician in the state, Siri Fiebiger, said, "Am I going to get prosecuted because I'm taking care of the life of the mother?" Fiebiger added that the amendment "is so vague. You can use it as you wish" (Demko, Modern Healthcare, 10/22).