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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 13 2013

Dems express concern about North Dakota abortion bills

BISMARCK – Abortion opponents urging the Legislature to adopt new laws to regulate abortion say the measures “are just common sense.” But as the debate lingered on for nearly six hours Wednesday, two Democrats on a House committee expressed concern about the problems the state may face if the bills are enacted.

“We’re moving into territory that’s brand new and asserting ourselves into people’s lives and decision-making,” said Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings.

The four Senate bills regarding abortion that passed through the full Senate were taken up by the House Human Services Committee, and more than 50 people packed themselves into the small committee room to voice their opinions.

Wednesday’s hearing was the last main public hearing before the measures get passed out of committee and voted on by the House. If the measures differ from the Senate versions, they will be sent to a conference committee.

The four bills address various aspects of the state’s law under the Abortion Control Act, including who can perform an abortion, penalties for performing an abortion after 20 weeks, prohibiting the destruction of embryos and allowing the voters to decide if life begins at conception.

Women on both sides of the issue took hold of Wednesday’s discussion.

Four recent graduates of St. Mary’s High School in Bismarck spoke in favor of the measures, expressing their concerns as young Catholic women, they told the committee.

“I know there is more to it than the facts,” Brianne Bowker said. “There are many effects to our very core beliefs, and it affects us young women the most.”

Mooney, who was the most outspoken during the hearing, expressed concern over Senate Bill 2303 and Senate Resolution 4009, which would, in state law, recognize a child at conception.

“The definition sets precedent for a wide gamut of legal issues,” she said.

Mooney asked how the Internal Revenue Service would handle a fetus as a child. For tax purposes, she said, families have to list their children’s Social Security number and, in some cases, may have to provide documentation, such as a birth certificate.

Gualberto Garcia Jones, director of legislative analysis for Personhood USA, said problems that arise from the legislation are “things we can easily resolve without going to the extent of denying a right to life,” offering that an ultrasound image could be used as an option for identification.

Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, questioned some religious aspects of the proposals, wondering if the bills would use one religion’s definition over another’s of when life begins – potentially violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which does not allow a law to dictate religion.

Pastor John Boustead of Solomon’s Rest, a Christian outreach center in Bismarck, answered Oversen’s question, saying the U.S. Constitution was framed with the idea of God and the state would have to address the original writers’ intent when looking at the laws.

“The Bible, the only Bible and the real one and only God should be recognized by North Dakota based on history,” he said.

Testimony submitted by Temple Beth El in Fargo, the only religious organization to object to the measure, said Jewish law recognizes a human being when the head emerges from the womb, or when most of the fetal body is out.

Committee member Rep. Alex Looysen, R-Jamestown, said he’s a pro-life advocate and believes life begins at conception but tries to approach the issues from a fact-based mentality.

Looysen, a biology major at Jamestown College looking to enter the medical field, said the debate boils down to the legality of prohibiting abortion, how the proposals could affect the medical field and religious beliefs.

“We need to look at these things from a scientific base, too,” he said. “We all have our religious beliefs, but science provides some facts for us to consider.”

Wednesday’s hearing also provided costs associated with an amendment the Senate added to Senate Bill 2303, which would provide Medicaid coverage to pregnant women with low incomes.

Maggie Anderson, interim executive director for the Department of Human Services, said the amendment would cost the state every biennium just over $5.3 million for women currently insured and another $4.3 million for the uninsured.


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