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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 05 2013

Abortion battle continues in ND Legislature

BISMARCK – Sen. Margaret Sitte said a thwarted effort during the 2011 legislative session to define a human being at conception may have fueled this year’s legislation aimed at abortion and giving rights to the unborn.

“That has been rumbling around inside people since,” the Republican from Bismarck said. “People really felt if there was going to be an opportunity to get something done, this is it with the right group of people and the right time.”

The personhood and abortion issues have surfaced this session in seven distinct forms of legislation, all designed to address the legal practice of abortion the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Rep. Betty Grande, R-Fargo, is championing two bills that passed in the House that would limit the practice of abortion.

“I believe there is life in the womb and in the full sanctity of life; we need to protect the unborn,” she said.

On the other side, Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, calls herself a pro-life person who votes pro-choice, believing state laws should not infringe on a woman’s right to choose.

“God hasn’t tapped me on the shoulder and said I am in charge,” she said. “I can’t tell somebody else what to do.”

When the second half of the session starts today, the Legislature will take up Grande’s bills to prohibit an abortion based on gender or genetic abnormalities or if a heartbeat is detected; and Sitte’s personhood resolution to amend the state constitution to include unborn babies, as well as proposals to define who can legally perform an abortion, prohibiting in vitro fertilization and the age an unborn can feel pain. The Senate defeated one bill that would have penalized anyone guilty of destroying a human embryo with a misdemeanor crime.

State’s role

Tammi Kromenaker is director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s lone abortion clinic.

She said Monday that the remaining six bills “are troubling to us as some of them contain unconstitutional attacks on reproductive rights, and the health and safety of women is being threatened in North Dakota.”

Kromenaker added that the bills before the North Dakota Legislature now are similar to those being passed through state legislatures around the country. She said it seems many legislatures are trying to be the first to pass a bill that directly challenges the Roe. v. Wade decision.

“We know there is a concentrated effort to chip away at women’s rights in the states because that’s where the Supreme Court gave the power to allow states to regulate abortion,” she said.

Grande said the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling has emphasized the state’s role to look at the life and welfare of the mother and define what a potential life is.

“We have been forced by federal courts to address those two issues because (Planned Parenthood) took it to the federal court to do so,” she said. “I would rather not be having that discussion, but Planned Parenthood put us here.”

Sitte and Grande said they have drafted their own pieces without any help from a pro-life organization.

Grande said she has introduced legislation this year, and supported it during previous sessions, because, “We as state representatives represent our people and this is what our people are wanting,” she said.

Legal battles

Hawken said the most egregious of the bills are the personhood bills, designed to define a human as an embryo or unborn child, which would eliminate a number of areas of women’s health.

As many legislators and lobbyists have warned, the legislation will likely result in an increased number of lawsuits.

“They want it to be a lawsuit,” Hawken said. “It isn’t thinking about women or children, it’s strictly to have the ability to tell other people what they should or should not do.”

Sitte would welcome the opportunity to use the state law to challenge Roe v. Wade and hears the same from North Dakota residents.

“It’s almost every day I see somebody that says thanks for standing firmly for life.”

Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, said she is convinced the large number of bills have been introduced so one or two might make it through the session.

She said the most offensive part about the legislation is the lack of fiscal responsibility.

“I believe what is happening in North Dakota is being positioned to foot the bill for a federal court fight,” Mooney said.

The North Dakota Medical Association, which represents many physicians across the state, rarely takes a public position on divisive issues. The group’s opposition to the “personhood” bills has nothing to do with the abortion issue, NDMA Executive Director Courtney Koebele said, noting that physicians themselves are divided over the issue.

“These bills are interfering with the physician practice to such an extent that we didn’t really have an alternative,” she said. “These are just bad bills.”

Mike Booth, president of the North Dakota Medical Association, said if they become law, the personhood bills could make North Dakota less attractive to professional women.

“I see this as a real swipe at women’s rights,” he said. “I find that very depressing in a state that’s trying very hard to push itself forward. That really upsets me.”


Five bills, one amendment being debated

Gender

House Bill 1305 would prohibit an abortion based on the child’s gender or a genetic abnormality.

Passed by the House; to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heartbeat

House Bill 1456 would prohibit an abortion after the unborn child has a detected heartbeat, effectively limiting the period an abortion can be performed to five or six weeks.

Passed by the House; to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Physician

Senate Bill 2305 says an abortion may not be performed by any person other than a physician who is licensed to practice in this state. All physicians performing abortion procedures must have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the abortion facility and staff privileges to replace hospital on-staff physicians at that hospital.

Passed by the Senate; to be heard by House Human Services Committee.

Age

Senate Bill 2368 aims to protect an unborn baby from the pain it may feel as a result of an abortion. Except in an emergency where the health of the mother is in jeopardy, a person may not perform or induce an abortion if the unborn child is older than 20 weeks.

Senate Bill 2303 defines a human being as an individual at every stage of development and penalize anyone who performs an in vitro fertilization.

Both bills passed by the Senate; to be heard by House Human Service Committee.

Personhood amendment

If passed, voters could amend the state constitution to prohibit abortions by adding, “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

The sponsors of Senate Concurrent Resolution 4009 have said the resolution could help persuade the U.S. Supreme Court into overturning its Roe v. Wade decision.

Passed by the Senate; to be taken up by the House Human Services Committee.


Reporter Patrick Springer contributed to this story.