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Anna Higgins, Published April 27 2013

Letter: ND is a leader for life

North Dakota is often ignored on the national scene, but its 2013 legislative session has put North Dakota on the forefront of the fight to recognize and defend life.

Over the past two months, a colleague and I have traveled to Bismarck to testify in support of groundbreaking pro-life legislation.

Pro-life measures included a bill banning abortions for the purpose of sex selection or for reasons of genetic abnormality (PRENDA; pre-natal non-discrimination act); three bills, including an amendment proposal, defining “person” as a human being at all stages of development; a bill requiring that physicians performing abortion have local hospital admitting privileges; a ban on abortion after the point at which the child can feel pain (20 weeks); and a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat has been detected. The debate was long and well-attended by those in support of, and in opposition to, the bills.

Six of the seven bills presented in January were passed and debate was held in opposite chambers this month. Again, at the request of the bills’ sponsors, the Family Resource Council was front and center presenting expert scientific, legal and human rights arguments in support of the legislation. The heartbeat, PRENDA, fetal pain and physician admitting privilege bills passed the House and were signed into law by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Both the heartbeat and PRENDA bills are groundbreaking pieces of legislation that offer much-needed protection for pre-born children. Although a heartbeat bill was passed in Arkansas earlier this month, the North Dakota bill differs in that it does not specify a gestational age, but rather employs “standard medical practice” as the yardstick to determine a detectable heartbeat.

Additionally, North Dakota is the first state to take the lead in defense of pre-born children with disabilities. The PRENDA bill passed by North Dakota is the first of its kind to offer protection to children diagnosed with Down syndrome and other genetic abnormalities along with a ban on sex selective abortion. According to published studies, at least 92 percent of pre-born children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted; thus, this protective measure for children with disabilities is sorely needed. Physician’s admitting privilege requirements serve an important and legitimate state interest in protecting the health and safety of its residents. By enacting this measure, North Dakota makes the health and safety of women a top priority rather than the convenience of doctors or clinic owners.

The bill defining personhood in the North Dakota criminal code (SB 2303) faced fierce opposition from those who mistakenly assumed that the bill would ban in vitro fertility treatment (IVF). FRC’s resident expert on IVF issues, Dr. David Prentice, was able to dispel those fears in his testimony by pointing out that SB 2303 actually makes specific provisions protecting the practice of IVF, as long as it is practiced using safe, standard medical procedures. In order to face any penalty under the bill, an IVF clinic would have to commit gross negligence or reckless endangerment – a standard of care similar to that applied to any other doctor in the care of his or her patients. Eventually, this bill was defeated and, thus, will not go to the governor for approval.

Denial of the humanity of the unborn increasingly has become an indefensible position. In this day and age, when advanced medical technology is able to confirm the existence of unique life from the moment of conception, states like North Dakota should be commended for taking the lead in protecting life. They take seriously our nation’s foundational principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life. It is the government’s duty to ensure that these rights are recognized and protected.

Anna Higgins is director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. She testified before the North Dakota Legislative Assembly committees on life-related legislation.