North Dakota Passes Another Restrictive Abortion Measure

A 6-week fetus; unviable for life outside of mother… a “person”?; image by Photo Researchers, Inc. @ScienceClarified

North Dakota already has the most extreme anti-abortion laws in the nation, yet state Republicans have passed another measure designed to make them even more restrictive. On Friday, the North Dakota House passed a fetal pain measure by a vote of 60-32, banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the scientifically unsupported claim that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks of development.

The state senate passed the same bill in February, and it now goes to Governor Jack Dalrymple who is almost certainly going to sign it. The Republican governor previously signed a fetal heartbeat bill into law that could ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy upon detection of a heartbeat.

The North Dakota legislature also previously approved a measure that will add language to the state constitution declaring that a zygote is a person, thus banning abortion entirely. Voters will have the final say on whether that language is added when they vote in 2014.

The purpose of the entirety of the legislation passed in North Dakota is to challenge the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which bars states from banning abortion until around the 24th week of pregnancy when a fetus becomes viable to survive outside of the womb. Pro-choice advocates contend that North Dakota’s restrictive laws are unconstitutional and they have science and legal precedent backing them up.

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The 14th Amendment clearly states that “all persons born” are entitled to the rights and privileges protected by the Constitution. It says nothing of the unborn, meaning only a constitutional amendment could give personhood to fetuses. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld Roe time and time again. Forty years of court precedent is on the side of choice.


Although North Dakota has joined Arkansas, Kansas and nine other states in passing a 20 week ban, that very same measure has already been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Idaho. If and when the ruling is upheld, the 20-week ban in the other states will go up in smoke. But North Dakota is prepared to battle it out in court, and they have no qualms about using taxpayer dollars to do it. The Bismarck Tribune reports:

Lawmakers have started building a war chest to defend against potential lawsuits. The Senate has unanimously supported a request by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem for a $400,000 budget increase.

But that costly effort could very well turn out to be a giant waste of money. Not only is court precedent against the measure, so is science. Republicans are passing these bills based on the notion that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks but medical science refutes such a claim.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has found that fetal pain is unlikely to occur before the third trimester. Furthermore, the New Scientist reported on the findings of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in England and summarized their conclusion as follows:

The report concludes that fetuses under 24 weeks must be pain-free, because at that age the wiring doesn’t exist to send pain signals from nerves around the body to the cortex, the area of the brain where pain is experienced. At which later point such connections form is unknown, so analgesia should still be considered after 24 weeks, the RCOG says.

Women in North Dakota are in serious jeopardy because of this bill, known as SB 2368. According to North Dakota Planned Parenthood:

SB 2368 bill is about politics, not medicine. The bill has only narrow exceptions for a woman’s life and no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, or fetal anomaly. Some of the most dangerous pregnancy-related conditions occur or are diagnosed after 20 weeks.

The very narrow exception for a “medical emergency” leaves many scenarios where a woman’s health may be at risk, but where a doctor — for fear of being prosecuted or simply because a woman’s health crisis does not rise to the definition of medical emergency — would not be able to offer a woman care she needs during what may be the most difficult time in her life.

And if that’s not enough, Republicans in North Dakota are also trying to shut down the state’s sole remaining abortion clinic. So not only is the state trying to destroy women’s health services, they are trying to force all women throughout the state to carry pregnancies to term whether they like it or not, even if they are raped. All of these bills make North Dakota one of the most devastating places in America for women to live.