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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published January 29 2013

‘My parents and the doctors are not abortionists’

BISMARCK – When Alexis Grabinger was in the womb, that womb belonged to her aunt.

The Jamestown High School senior and daughter of Democratic state Sen. John Grabinger told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning that she would not be alive if her mother had not been allowed to produce multiple eggs for in vitro fertilization. The other eggs were later destroyed, something that would be considered an abortion under a resolution before the committee.

“I strongly believe my parents and the doctors are not abortionists, but rather miracle workers who brought life when there was none,” Alexis said.

Alexis was speaking in opposition to Senate Concurrent Resolution 4009, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, which proposes to amend North Dakota’s constitution by adding “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and defended.”

Pro-life advocates and six lawmakers hope to get the amendment on the 2014 primary ballot and let North Dakota voters decide on eliminating abortion. Proponents believe an affirmative vote can help persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its controversial 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that allows abortions.

The hearing drew testimony from physicians, Christian organizations and individuals that have been affected by the issue in some form, such as Alexis.

She described how her mother was unable to conceive a child but took two shots every day for two months to increase her hormones to help generate eggs. One fertilized egg was implanted in her aunt.

Sen. Grabinger said he was proud of his daughter for speaking out about the issue, but he said the Legislature has no position to interfere in such personal matters.

“There’s no question I have a personal attachment to this stuff, it was difficult for me today to sit through all this testimony and hear this,” Sen. Grabinger said after the hearing. “I know the miracle that is walking and talking to me everyday. If somebody would have done this 18 years ago I wouldn’t have had her.”

No action was taken on the resolution Tuesday.

Sitte, who introduced the resolution during the hearing, said Congress has heard the human life amendment, “so why not do it at the state level?”

“Our creator, God, not the government, has provided inalienable rights,” Sitte said. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ... God wrote these words on every human heart.”

Dr. Siri Fiebiger, a practicing gynecologist and obstetrician in Fargo, said the issue is not something that should be legislated. While she has her own religious beliefs, she doesn’t impose them on her patients as they contemplate an abortion.

“A woman understands her values and abilities to provide for herself and the unborn child,” Fiebiger said. “You’re describing an invasive idealistic process for someone else who wants to make that decision in my office; it’s not the role of a legislature.”

She said the amendment would invade doctor-patient relationships, remove the most reliable forms of emergency contraception and increase the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

She added that it would have a broad negative impact on women’s health care in North Dakota, which may result is some providers moving out of the state, including herself.

The amendment could have a legal impact for physicians as well.

Fargo resident Karla Rose Hanson, who has used in vitro fertilization three times, said if the amendment were added to the state Constitution and an embryo is legally defined as a person, “there will be a fear of what ramifications a health care professional would have if they were helping a person with a troublesome pregnancy,” she said.

“They shouldn’t have to check Century Code to preserve a person’s right or their fertility,” she said.

In her introductory remarks, Sitte also told committee members the measure would protect not only unborn babies, but people in every condition of life.

“It isn’t enough to say we recognize the right to life,” she said. “We must also defend that life from whomever or whatever is threatening it.”

Anna Higgins, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, said there are many laws protecting for humans after they are born, but no law to protect the unborn.

“Right now the law asks us to discriminate against these people because of their age and development,” she said. “It’s troubling to deny rights to individuals who do not have a way to protect themselves.”

Sitte told the committee the resolution is directed at the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision and said if the amendment passed and made it into the state’s Constitution, “It will proclaim to other states and the world, in North Dakota people have decided the alienable right must be recognized and defended.”

Chairman David Hogue, R-Minot, asked if waiting for the Supreme Court to change its opinion would be a better option, although the court’s decision does not seem to be changing soon.

Gualberto Garcia Jones, a lobbying member of Personhood USA, an anti-abortion group, helped answer the question with a quote, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

“There’s a possibility, I’m not saying it's a sure thing,” he said. “But if a state were to take a strong state’s right position, there is argument under federalism, justices would consider that the amendment is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.”

Tim Lindgren, state director of the North Dakota Life League, which has 4,000 family members throughout the state, said now is the best time to challenge the court’s decision.

“It’s extremely important to zero in on that fact,” he said. “How is Supreme Court going to know when the states are ready to protect human life at all stages. It’s only by our action in passing a bill that they are going to get the message.”

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