North Dakota sends three extreme antiabortion measures to governor's desk

North Dakota is trying really, really hard to become the worst state for women and reproductive freedom

Published March 25, 2013 7:25PM (EDT)


The North Dakota Legislature has made a sport out of denying women their reproductive rights. And they have gotten very, very good at it.

Three of the four extreme abortion bills state lawmakers passed in recent weeks are expected to reach Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Monday. Dalrymple has not indicated whether or not he intends to sign the measures, but the state House and Senate may have the votes necessary to override any veto he issues.

Once the bills arrive on his desk, the governor has three days to sign or veto them. If he fails to act, they will automatically become law.

The first of the three measures Dalrymple will consider is House Bill 1456, the "fetal heartbeat ban." The measure would make all abortions illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected which, if a trans-vaginal probe is used, can be as early as five or six weeks after fertilization. If signed into law, doctors could face up to five years in prison if they perform an abortion after the cut-off date. After passing the state Legislature earlier in March, the measure beat out Arkansas' 12-week abortion ban to become the most extreme in the nation.

Next in line is Senate Bill 2305, a TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) measure that would require all physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the abortion facility. North Dakota only has one abortion provider left operating in the state, mirroring the crisis in Mississippi, where that state's sole abortion clinic has been repeatedly denied admitting privileges based on political and ideological grounds. There is little doubt that, if signed into law, North Dakota's last remaining provider will face similar hurdles. And, as Robin Marty at RH Reality Check notes, the state's Red River Women's Clinic "believes it may be unable to obtain hospital privileges if the law is signed in part because it has had too few complications to be accepted by one of the two local hospitals, which only offers privileges to doctors who will admit more than ten patients per year."

Then there is House Bill 1305, a so-called sex-selective ban that would prohibit an abortion based on the fetus' sex. Similar measures in other states have been denounced by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, calling such legislation racially motived and undue intrusions into doctor-patient confidentiality, and explaining that "If this measure is passed into law, we will then require that medical and mental health professionals violate ... doctor-patient confidentiality." But North Dakota's ban goes even further, also targeting abortions based on potentially fatal fetal abnormalities.

A state Senate-approved ballot initiative does not require Dalrymple's signature, but will ask voters to decide if life should legally begin at fertilization, effectively banning all abortions in the state, period.

The state's turn to the extreme side of extreme has alienated reproductive rights advocates, women's health activists, medical professionals and -- wait for it -- a coalition of Republicans who believe their colleagues have gone too far.

As reported by the Huffington Post:

"It's to say, hey, this isn't okay. We have stepped over the line," said state Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo) in a phone interview with The Huffington Post... "North Dakota hasn't even passed a primary seatbelt law, but we have the most invasive attack on womens health anywhere," she said. "I got a letter yesterday from a pharmacist who said, 'We don't want to be in jail because we prescribed something!' We're spending an inordinate amount of time on social or personal issues, however you want to put it, but we haven't done anything on property tax relief, higher education funding, fixing the roads. There are all kinds of other things we need to be doing besides this."

Hawken said that as a strong fiscal conservative, she is worried that the state will spend millions of dollars that could be put to better use defending these laws in court. "They could fund my childcare bill with what we're going to spend on lawsuits," she said. "Can't we let Arkansas be the poster child for this? Why does it have to be us?"

Hawken, a self-proclaimed pro-life Republican, says her colleagues have also rejected measures to increase prenatal care for minors and childcare for single moms, leaving her to question the motives behind the recent legislative push:

"It seems like we want to get [babies] here," she said, "but we don't care if they're healthy once they get here. That's just bad policy," she said.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Abortion Abortion Rights Anti-choice