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Published March 27 2013

Forum editorial: Governor sincere but wrong

There is no reason to doubt Gov. Jack Dalrymple was sincere when he signed three bills that will make North Dakota’s anti-abortion laws the most restrictive in the nation. But being sincere does not ameliorate being wrong.

His brief explanation in a news release was weak. It suggested even he has doubts about the flawed and dangerous bills. He asked the Legislature to set aside a fund to finance the state’s defense of the laws in court, which likely will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The state’s case is dead-on-arrival in federal court, which has been the fate of similar legislation in other states.

Yet, when it came to considering vetoes, the governor folded like a tent in a blizzard. He deferred to a Legislature that was bullied into making bad law by a cabal of anti-abortion religionists who have no qualms about misusing their legislative privilege and power. It appears the governor was similarly bullied.

The fallout will be consequential.

First, the state is being (accurately?) portrayed as clinging to a barefoot-and-pregnant view of women’s rights. The notion that North Dakota can lead a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is feel-good pie-in-the-sky. It’s not realistic litigation potential. Fully 63 percent of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned, according to the latest Pew survey.

Second, the bills already are having detrimental effects on medical practice in the state. The attitudes embodied in the legislation, not the least of which is blithely criminalizing doctors who serve their patients, will drive doctors out of the state and deter new physicians from setting up shop here. Students at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine have said as much.

Third, the state’s strong economy won’t be enough to attract and hold educated women and young families because of anti-woman, anti-medical science legislation that ham-handedly interferes in the patient-doctor relationship.

Finally, the bills (and at least one other still in the legislative hopper) will not prevent a single abortion. Legal action will stop implementation; litigation will drag on for years. Abortions and necessary medical interventions the bills aim to stop will go on. Ironically, the same lawmakers who railroaded the anti-abortion bills through the Legislature oppose a university research project designed in part to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The hypocrisy is mindboggling.

The governor’s decision to sign the bills is more than a disappointment. He has unnecessarily put the state into a costly and losing legal struggle. More importantly, his deference to legislative malfeasance dismisses women’s rights and undermines best practices of medicine in North Dakota.

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