North Dakota House Passes Egg-as-Person Bill

Kay Steiger

Anti-choice legislators recently introduced bills to define fertilized eggs as people in Maryland and North Dakota -- North Dakota's passed its House on Tuesday. Pro-choice groups gear up for the fight.

On Tuesday, one body of North
Dakota’s state legislature voted, 51-41, not only to ban abortion,
but to define life as beginning at conception. Such a measure, considered
extreme even by pro-life standards, would have far-reaching consequences
on women’s health.

State Rep. Dan Ruby introduced
the legislation,
which declares that "for purposes of interpretation of the constitution
and laws of North Dakota, it is the intent of the legislative assembly
that an individual, a person, when the context indicates that a reference
to an individual is intended, or a human being includes any organism
with the genome of homo sapiens."  

"It was at the bottom of
the calendar and we didn’t expect [the House] to get to it, so it
caught us a little bit by surprise," said Tim Stanley, senior director
of government and public affairs for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North
Dakota, South Dakota. "This bill dangerous, far reaching, and allows
government — not women and families — to make critical decisions about
health care." Some state legislators have
been quoted
saying the intent of the measure is not to ban abortion outright. However,
many legal experts agree that defining life as beginning at conception
would affect access to birth control and emergency contraception as
well as affect in vitro fertilization. "I’m not sure if this is naivete or if this is sincere," Stanley said. "The bottom
line is that our attorneys have looked at this and are extremely concerned." 

The state’s legislature,
in a slightly more robust year for anti-choice legislation than usual,
will also be considering other anti-choice legislation this session.
Other bills under consideration would require the state’s only abortion
clinic to place signs outside declaring that no one can force a woman
to have an abortion, and legislation that would mimic South
Dakota’s "informed consent" legislation, a requirement that abortion providers must read a statement to women seeking abortion care stating that the procedure "will terminate the life of a whole, separate,
unique, living human being." The state legislature is also considering
a measure that would resolve not to adopt a Freedom of Choice Act. "It’s
a sort of anti-FOCA," Stanley said. But because it hasn’t been introduced
in Congress, "it’s a complete red herring." 

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Stanley hopes that these other,
"less extreme" measures that he believes will probably pass, will
be enough to "placate" the anti-choice community in North Dakota’s
legislature. Stanley also notes that his Planned Parenthood affiliate
has only been in active in the state’s legislature since 2007 and
is the only pro-choice group that advocates at the state’s legislature.  

"The grassroots pro-life
base in North Dakota very vibrant," Stanley said. "This movement,
if it had more of a foundation, be it money or what have you, that they
would be a substantial group. And that I find fairly alarming." During
the panel hearing on the so-called personhood legislation, Stanley said
he followed more than 90 minutes of anti-choice testimony by five or
six anti-choice groups with a about six minutes of testimony pointing
out the unconstitutional nature of the legislation. 

The personhood bill will go on to the
state Senate by the end of the week, and Stanley says it is likely not
to be voted on until the end of the legislature’s session, in April.
Stanley believes that ultimately North Dakotans may not want to draw national attention with a challenge to Roe. If the bill does pass, Planned Parenthood’s
affiliate will begin reaching out to the medical and religious community
to begin building a coalition of support to fight the measure. 

"My experience had been that
this legislature is grounded in reality, as opposed to some other legislatures,"
Stanley said. "South Dakota is not the most rational legislature when
it comes to this kind of stuff. They’re known as being slightly out
there and willing to take those high-profile risks to fight this fight.
My feeling is that North Dakota is just slightly more reticent to do
that. To their credit they’re not a state that looks [for] and seeks
undue attention." 

Egg-as-Person in Pro-Choice Maryland

A state legislator in Maryland
has proposed a similar measure. The state seems like a strange place
for such a measure; it has an overwhelmingly pro-choice legislature
and passed a law that codified Roe v. Wade in 1992. "It’s
public relations for them," said Wendy Royalty, public relations director
of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. "There’s very little likelihood
of [the bill] passing at all." 

Delegate Don Dwyer, a socially
conservative delegate who also introduced a ban on same-sex marriage
this week as well, introduced the legislation last week. The judiciary
committee will consider the legislation and the chairman, Delegate Joe
Vollario, is rated anti-choice by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland. But Maryland’s
house has an overwhelming pro-choice majority, Royalty said, so it is
most likely that the bill will be killed in committee. 

"Nobody wants to see a bill
like that get on the floor because all it does is waste everybody’s
time," Royalty said. "We’ve seen the anti-choice people introduce
bills that appear to be more reasonable, but this one will not be perceived
this way." Three other states have introduced similar "personhood"
measures: North Carolina, Montana, and Alabama. 

The lesson we might draw from the pushes for personhood legislation in these two states is that it pays to have a legislature that views anti-choice bills as a waste of time.  In North Dakota, a strong grassroots anti-choice lobby can go far with incremental legislation because the legislature is far more amenable to its cause — even if it’s hesitant to pass an all-out ban. While many resources aren’t devoted
to Midwestern states until direct attacks on Roe are presented, these states might have an easier
time fighting both incremental and more sweeping anti-choice legislation if a strong anti-choice grassroots
movement there didn’t make being an anti-choice legislator worthwhile.

News Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”


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