North Dakota Lawmakers Define Life as Starting at Conception

By Beacon Staff

BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota lawmakers moved Friday to outlaw abortion in the state by passing a resolution defining life as starting at conception.

The measure, which has to be approved by voters, is one of a series of anti-abortion resolutions the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed this year despite critics’ insistence that they are unconstitutional and violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion until a fetus considered viable, which is usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

The North Dakota House approved the measure 57-35 Friday, sending it to voters, likely in November 2014. The Senate approved it last month.

The so-called personhood measure bestows human rights on fertilized human eggs. Efforts to pass similar measures in other states have failed, but anti-abortion legislation has had strong momentum in North Dakota this year with lawmakers introducing a slew of measures aimed at closing the state’s sole abortion clinic in Fargo and challenging Roe v. Wade.

A second personhood bill debated Friday would have automatically defined in state law that life begins at conception. That bill was narrowly defeated after a heated discussion as lawmakers from both parties worried the wording would jeopardize couples’ efforts to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization.

Last week, the Legislature had already passed bills that would ban abortion as early as six weeks, or as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, and because of genetic defects such as Down syndrome. Together, those bills would give North Dakota the strictest abortion laws in the nation.

Abortion-rights activists have said that if Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs any of them into law, they will fight them in court. Dalrymple, a Republican, has not indicated whether he plans to approve or veto the various measures.

The threat of costly litigation may be less of a deterrent in oil-rich North Dakota than in other states. Booming oil production has helped the state avoid the kind of budget cuts seen elsewhere and left it with comfortable surpluses.

Debate over the legislation got heated Friday, with one Republican urging lawmakers to “pick a side” and “stay with it.”

“Either you’re pro-life or against it. Don’t politicize it,” Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said.

Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, said she voted against the measures to protect the rights of women and families wanting to make pregnancy decisions with their doctors and their god. She said some of the measures could unintentionally affect end-of-life decisions as well.

Lawmakers Friday also passed a bill outlawing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point, fetuses feel pain. And lawmakers approved another measure that requires a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.

Many of the North Dakota bills are modeled on legislation from other states.

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