May 4, 2015 — Women in North Dakota face several obstacles to obtaining abortions and preventing unintended pregnancies, from the state's numerous antiabortion-rights laws to the lack of comprehensive sexuality education, the Huffington Post reports.
'Canary in the Coal Mine'
According to Center for Reproductive Rights President and CEO Nancy Northup, "North Dakota is like the canary in the coal mine" in that the state serves as a testing ground for antiabortion-rights activists before they decide whether to pursue legislation at the federal level.
The state bans abortion at 20 weeks' gestation, requires minors to have consent from both parents in order to have an abortion and prohibits public funds from going toward abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment to a woman's life.
In addition, a law (HB 1456) that would ban abortions as early as six weeks' gestation is pending before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Kassie, Huffington Post, 4/30). The law would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/14).
North Dakota only has one remaining abortion clinic, Red River Women's Clinic of Fargo. Clinic staff only see patients on Wednesdays, when they treat an average of 25 women. According to the Huffington Post, women who live in the northwest portion of the state need to drive up to eight hours to get to the clinic. Clinic volunteer Warren Christensen said, "It's a tremendous financial burden to drive a car, to take a day off work. There are some stories of women who are basically prepared to sleep in their car overnight because they can't afford to get a hotel."
In addition, a surgical abortion at the clinic costs between $575 and $975, varying based on stage of pregnancy. While RRWC has a not-for-profit program, called the Women In Need fund, to provide financial assistance to women seeking abortions, it does not guarantee funding for all women, the Huffington Post reports.
According to clinic director Tammi Kromenaker, the access issues have spurred some women to consider unsafe abortion methods.
Meanwhile, Northup said the state could improve access to abortions by allowing local providers to administer medication abortions and by expanding access to telemedicine services.
Lack of Comprehensive Sexuality Education
In addition to limited abortion access, the state also lacks a comprehensive sexuality education program that could help reduce unintended pregnancy rates, according to the Huffington Post.
The state's health education standards, written in 2008, mention abstinence as a potential way to improve health, but do not mention condoms or other contraceptives. However, research has shown that abstinence programs do not cause teenagers to delay sexual activity.
Northup said, "What we need to have for the health and well-being of girls and women is comprehensive sexual and reproductive programs, so that women and girls understand how their reproductive systems work, understand how to get the health care they need and how to make good decisions around their reproductive health" (Huffington Post, 4/30).