North Dakota Anti-Abortion Law Defines Life Starting At Conception

The North Dakota House ruled on Friday to define life as starting at conception, which would completely outlaw abortion in a state that has already passed several other bills threatening a person's right to have an abortion.

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple has not yet said if he will sign or veto the bill, which passed in the Senate last month.

Among the other anti-abortion bills the House voted through on Friday were ones outlawing abortions past 20 weeks (based on the questionable premise that the fetus feels pain after this time) and 6 weeks.

This measure would give a fertilized egg the same rights as a person, and will also charge doctors who damage embryos with criminal negligence. It is so extreme that medical professionals have vowed to leave the state if it becomes law, and abortion rights activists are already preparing to fight it in court.

Critics of the bill find this and other anti-abortion laws unconstitutional because they violate Roe v. Wade, which states that abortions may be performed until viability of the fetus, which is generally regarded as between 22 and 24 weeks.

Even fellow Republican state legislators find that this bill crosses the line.

"North Dakota hasn't even passed a primary seat belt law, but we have the most invasive attack on women's health anywhere," said Rep. Kathy Hawken (R-Fargo).

The state would not criminalize women who receive abortions, but the proposed punishment for doctors who perform them after a fetal heartbeat is detected is a $5,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison.

There is only one clinic left in the state that performs abortions, and like all clinics of the sort, provides several other medical services besides abortions. Over 1,m200 women from North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota receive basic medical care at the Red River Women's Clinic.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the clinic, said they have been "inundated" with support and that she holds out hope that the governor's ultimate decision will be the right one.

"You don’t have to agree with abortion to veto [the bills]," she said.

This bill is the most restrictive in the country and would threaten women seeking abortions who are unable to leave the state to receive one. According to the World Health Organization, unsafe abortion is the cause of 70,000 maternal deaths each year, or seven women per hour. Half of all abortions are performed unsafely, most of which happen in the developing world.

Right now, it is up to Gov. Dalrymple to decide whether he wants the rest of the country to see North Dakota as "pro-life" heroes or an abortionless state akin to developing countries that do not even have the means to prevent the number of deaths that result from unsafe abortions.

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Christine Salek

Christine is a writer and perpetual student living in Des Moines, Iowa. Her writing can also be found on Medium, the Gonzaga Bulletin, and ResearchGate.

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