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Published March 16 2013

Forum editorial: Two bills not at all about ‘life’

Two bills in the North Dakota Legislature violate basic precepts of conservative Republican doctrine. The misnamed “personhood” bill and a proposed constitutional amendment (for the ballot) that purports to define life “at any stage of development” are outrageous intrusions of government into the most private and personal issues facing North Dakotans. Both measures should be defeated on that basis alone. Two related bills, which are equally ill-advised, earlier passed the House and Senate. Gov. Jack Dalrymple should veto both.

Let’s be clear: Proponents of the pending legislation claim the measures are pro-life, and thus meant to end abortions in the state, but their practical effect would be nothing of the sort.

First, from a legal perspective, they will not pass muster. Supporters of the bills concede their primary purpose is to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s long-standing Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion within limits. Legal scholars – even committed pro-life attorneys (see Jane Ahlin’s column on opposite page) – have concluded that the proposed North Dakota laws would be rejected by federal courts. Similar laws in at least one state have met such a fate.

And the cost of tilting at the legal windmill would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars of wasted taxpayer money. If ever there was a misuse of legislative power, these bills constitute the perfect example. The national organization that has been pushing these bills in state capitals, including Bismarck, won’t be paying the legal bills.

Secondly, the threat to the practice of medicine in North Dakota is real. The intrusive intent of the bills has energized physicians and others in health care as never before. In what is believed to be a first, the North Dakota Medical Association has taken a stand against the bills. Opponents are motivated not because they are pro-choice or anti-abortion but because the legislation would be an excessive and dangerous interference by the state in the doctor-patient relationship. One measure would actually criminalize doctors who frequently confront life-threatening complications of pregnancy, and must recommend ending a pregnancy. Bill supporters contend there are exceptions to accommodate such concerns. That’s a sham. Medical and legal experts have determined the language is vague enough to be open to interpretations so malleable as to affect even end-of-life decisions, such as advance directives and organ donation and transplantation. In vitro fertilization and other infertility treatments also would be at risk, according to physicians in that area of practice.

The great irony? Legislators who complain that the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, puts big government between doctor and patient would have North Dakota do precisely the same thing with their “personhood” bill and “life-at-any-stage-of-development” amendment.

Both measures are bad legislation. When SB 2303 and Resolution 4009 come to the House floor this week, representatives should crank up their courage and tap their intelligence – and defeat the bills.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.