All In: North Dakota Anti-Choicers Seek Heartbeat Bans, Human Life Amendments, TRAP Laws, and More

The last clinic in North Dakota that provides abortions. (NRL News.)

All In: North Dakota Anti-Choicers Seek Heartbeat Bans, Human Life Amendments, TRAP Laws, and More

The North Dakota legislature only meets every other year, so in its "on" year it has a lot of business to accomplish. Sadly, it looks like the major focus this year will be banning abortion any way they can.

With just one clinic left--the Red River Women's Clinic has recently become the face of abortion limits in this post-Casey world of abortion restrictions--any new law meant to interfere with a woman's right to access an abortion can be devastating. Now, with four different laws being proposed, limited access may quickly turn into no access at all.

State Concurrent Resolution 4009 would add a "Human Life Amendment" to the state constitution, an action that anti-choice advocates have been trying to do nationally since Roe v. Wade was decided 40 years ago. Ballot initiatives to eliminate access to safe abortion care in the state have been a series of failures in the Dakotas, but with a cheap media market pursue a campaign through, anti-choice activists can't seem to take no for an answer.

But at least an amendment would be up for a vote. SB 2302 would enact a so-called "personhood" bill banning abortions, stem-cell research, and possibly birth control and IVF, depending on what the state decides is or is not birth control that "kills a person."

Nothing in this section may be construed to prohibit the sale, use, prescription, or
administration of a contraceptive measure, drug, or chemical. Only birth control
that can be clinically proven to kill a person shall be affected by this section. In
the interest of protecting the health and safety of the people of North Dakota, the
state department of health shall provide a list of birth control products along with
their clinically proven effects upon women and preborn human beings at every
stage of development.

Also clearly stated in the ban? No abortions allowed for victims of sexual assault. "The state of North Dakota does not punish the crime of sexual assault with the
death penalty, and neither shall persons conceived through a sexual assault be
punished with the loss of life."

SB 2303 reiterates much of the "fertilized eggs are people" legalese presented in SB 2302, but clarifies more how IVF would be affected. Once an embryo is created, the family and doctor have 36 hours to discard of it, or it must either be implanted or kept frozen, unless a doctor is willing to certify that after testing the embryo would not progress to a live birth if it were implanted. Criminal penalties for destroying a fertilized egg do not apply to:

The screening, collecting, preparing, transferring, or cryopreserving of a human
being created through in vitro fertilization for the purpose of being transferred to a
human uterus.
c. The disposal or destruction of a fertilized human ovum, zygote, or embryo,
created through in vitro fertilization, which has been subject to medical testing
and analysis, and in the reasonable judgment of a medical professional, if
transferred to a human uterus, would not produce a live birth.
d. The disposal or destruction of a fertilized human ovum, zygote, or embryo,
created through in vitro fertilization which has not progressed in development for
thirty - six hours in culture .

After that 36 hours, however, it looks like your options are implant it somewhere, or keep it frozen indefinitely.

As if the multiple attempts to ban abortion all together weren't enough, the state will also take a swing at closing down the sole clinic by introducing the same TRAP law that has now put Jackson Women's Health Organization in jeopardy. A combination of admitting privileges to a local hospital and a requirement that the doctor performing the abortion be a board certified OB-Gyn is likely expected to have the same effect for Red River as it is currently having down south. Even more daunting for the North Dakota clinic, however, is the fact that for many women in the state, if that clinic closes their next nearest option is the Planned Parenthood Clinic in South Dakota, which may have a 72-hour waiting period and potentially a mandatory crisis pregnancy center counseling session in effect as well.

Even without actually closing down the clinic or giving fertilized eggs legal rights, the legislature still has a backup plan to eliminate almost all abortions--a heartbeat ban. If all other bills fail, the state may still just eliminate abortions as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, sometimes less than 28 days post conception. Not a coincidence is this language, which makes it a crime to perform an abortion without first checking for a heartbeat.

Except when a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance with this subsection, an individual may not perform an abortion on a pregnant woman before determining, in accordance with standard medical practice, if the unborn child the pregnant woman is carrying has a detectable heartbeat. Any individual who performs an abortion on a pregnant woman based on the exception in this subsection shall note in the pregnant woman's medical records that a medical emergency necessitating the abortion existed.

Red River Clinic states that they have no equipment to listen for a heartbeat at this time.

"Anti-choice politicians in North Dakota have undertaken an all-out assault on women's constitutionally protected rights, introducing not one, but fivebills that would end safe and legal abortion in the state," Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said via email statement. The CRR is representing Red River Clinic in a lawsuit over a 2011 medication abortion restriction bill.

"Whether through tactics that outright ban abortion or backdoor efforts to block women's access to reproductive health care providers, the end result is the same: women will be gravely harmed," continued Northup. "We strongly urge the members of these legislative committees to support women's access to basic health care and reject these extreme measures that are both unconstitutional and dangerous for North Dakota women."

All of the bills were heatedly debated in testemony at the state capital, where opponents of abortion called it murder, and said that TRAP laws that could close the only clinic were "safety" issues that no one could oppose "except those with a vested financial interest," according to the Bismark Tribune.

Also testifying, a woman who noted that with the new limits of "personhood" that would be put in place on invitro fertilization, her own existence never would have occurred. "I strongly believe my parents and the doctors are not abortionists, but rather miracle workers who brought life when there was none," said Alexis Grabinger, High School senior and daughter of state Senator James Grabiner.

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