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Jane Ahlin, Published April 27 2013

Ahlin: Mary sees parallels between ND and China child policies

As if jet lag and moldy food in a refrigerator not opened in almost a month weren’t bad enough, the first words I heard after parking my car in the grocery store lot were, “Hey Sunshine, I hear you’ve been to China.”

No avoiding it, there stood Mary Contrary next to a pallet of sandbags, wearing thigh-high rubber boots and a rain slicker. Hoping to make our conversation brief, I said, “Looks like you’re ready for the flood, Mary.”

“Indeed I am, Sunshine, but I’ve got other things on my mind, such as catching you up on some things the North Dakota Legislature passed and the governor signed while you were away.”

“Don’t bother, Mary. Our neighbors saved newspapers for us.” I tried to walk past her, but she stopped me.

“It’s no bother; besides, you’re always a little slow on the uptake, Sunshine.” She smiled. “Anyway, you should know about several controversial bills mandating North Dakota’s new one-child policy.”

“What on earth are you talking about, Mary?” I could see conversation with her was going to be as convoluted and wacky as ever.

“Easy, easy, Sunshine. Somebody who just spent 20 hours in a jet needs to watch her blood pressure.” She patted my arm. “I’m just trying to tell you that the North Dakota Legislature passed laws that say North Dakotans are only allowed to have one child. If they have a second child, they get whomped with huge financial penalties called ‘social compensation fees’ that can be two or three times their annual income.”

She must have seen me looking incredulous because she added, “Yes, indeed, first baby, tax breaks; second baby, big penalties.” She paused. “It doesn’t matter what a husband and wife think is right for their family, it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, and it doesn’t even matter if her religion makes it a sin for her to use birth control or get her tubes tied. The state calls the shots, and the state says a woman’s womb is to be used once and once only.”

“Mary, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Hold on, Sunshine. I’m not finished.” She started to pat my arm again, but I shrugged her off.

“OK, OK. There are a few exceptions. If you have twins or triplets, you aren’t penalized. And if you’re a farmer, you can petition to have more than one child.” She looked at me slyly. “Of course, the governor said he’s pretty sure the laws mandating only one child are unconstitutional, but he signed the measures into law anyway. He’s asked the Legislature to set up a special fund to pay for lawsuits bound to be filed.”

“Oh, good grief, Mary, you had me going for a moment. Since I just returned from China, which actually has one-child laws with severe penalties for second children, you thought you’d be clever and draw a parallel to North Dakota’s over-the-top anti-abortion laws, which, by the way, I know all about.” I paused. “Your real point is that the government in China not allowing women to bear children isn’t far removed from North Dakota’s new laws forcing women to bear children.”

“Not bad, Sunshine, but I’m afraid you’re still a brick short of a load. See, the North Dakota anti-abortion laws put the state in both positions: Couples who need in-vitro fertilization in order to have children can’t get IVF in the state; at the same time, rape victims and incest victims, even if 13 or 14 years old or suffering psychological trauma, can’t get abortions. By state decree, problem pregnancy doesn’t exist. In fact, an OB/GYN doc has to fear prosecution for doing what is best for patients.”

“The laws are appalling, Mary. But for now, I’m tired and hungry. I just want to get my groceries and go home.” I hurried toward the door.

“Hungry, Sunshine? I was about to say it looks like Chinese food agreed with you.”

“Goodbye, Mary.”

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.