THE LARGELY RURAL but newly oil-rich US state of North Dakota today outlawed most abortions in a move to challenge federal laws protecting a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
The move came shortly after state legislators passed a law that asks voters to amend the state constitution to define life as beginning at conception.
If ratified in a November 2014 election, the amendment would grant full legal protection to embryos and fetuses and could outlaw some forms of birth control, stem cell research and possibly in vitro fertilization.
In the meantime, a bill signed into law today will ban any abortion after a fetal heart beat can be detected, typically around six weeks after conception when many women still don’t realize they are pregnant.
There are no exceptions for rape, incest, the health of the mother or if she would lose the pregnancy anyway as a result of a fetal abnormality.
Other bills ban abortion as a result of genetic defects or for the purpose of gender selection and would require doctors at the state’s only abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The laws will undoubtedly prompt legal challenges – but their supporters will welcome any chance this gives them to overturn the landmark Supreme Court “Roe versus Wade” decision which legalized abortion in 1973.
Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple ordered the legislature to allocate funds to fight any legal challenges and expressed hope he may prevail with the fetal heartbeat bill.
“Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” he said in a statement.
“Because the US Supreme Court has allowed state restrictions on the performing of abortions and because the Supreme Court has never considered this precise restriction… the constitutionality of this measure is an open question.”
The Supreme Court refused to review the Roe decision legalizing abortion at the end of October, turning away a petition on an amendment to Oklahoma’s state constitution that would have granted “personhood” to embryos.
Other cases dealing with abortion are expected to come before the court in the coming months as more states pass laws that place greater restrictions on the procedure.
“This sweeping package of bills will not stand up to constitutional scrutiny,” said Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
“But as a result of North Dakota’s leaders’ disregard for women’s health, the state will endure months and years of drawn-out litigation costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she warned.
“What a reckless and appalling waste of resources.”
Stoesz said she welcomed the opportunity to fight the “personhood” amendment at the ballot box and noted that voters in even the most conservative states – like Mississippi — have rejected the “extreme” measure.
- © AFP 2013.