News Abortion

All In: North Dakota Anti-Choicers Seek Heartbeat Bans, Human Life Amendments, TRAP Laws, and More

Robin Marty

When your state legislature only meets every other year, you apparently work twice as fast at eliminating abortion access all together.

The North Dakota legislature only meets every other year, so in its “on” year it has a lot of business to accomplish. Sadly, it looks like the major focus this year will be banning abortion any way they can.

With just one clinic left—the Red River Women’s Clinic has recently become the face of abortion limits in this post-Casey world of abortion restrictions—any new law meant to interfere with a woman’s right to access an abortion can be devastating. Now, with four different laws being proposed, limited access may quickly turn into no access at all.

State Concurrent Resolution 4009 would add a “Human Life Amendment” to the state constitution, an action that anti-choice advocates have been trying to do nationally since Roe v. Wade was decided 40 years ago. Ballot initiatives to eliminate access to safe abortion care in the state have been a series of failures in the Dakotas, but with a cheap media market pursue a campaign through, anti-choice activists can’t seem to take no for an answer.

But at least an amendment would be up for a vote. SB 2302 would enact a so-called “personhood” bill banning abortions, stem-cell research, and possibly birth control and IVF, depending on what the state decides is or is not birth control that “kills a person.”

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Nothing in this section may be construed to prohibit the sale, use, prescription, or
administration of a contraceptive measure, drug, or chemical. Only birth control
that can be clinically proven to kill a person shall be affected by this section. In
the interest of protecting the health and safety of the people of North Dakota, the
state department of health shall provide a list of birth control products along with
their clinically proven effects upon women and preborn human beings at every
stage of development.

Also clearly stated in the ban? No abortions allowed for victims of sexual assault. “The state of North Dakota does not punish the crime of sexual assault with the
death penalty, and neither shall persons conceived through a sexual assault be
punished with the loss of life.”

SB 2303 reiterates much of the “fertilized eggs are people” legalese presented in SB 2302, but clarifies more how IVF would be affected. Once an embryo is created, the family and doctor have 36 hours to discard of it, or it must either be implanted or kept frozen, unless a doctor is willing to certify that after testing the embryo would not progress to a live birth if it were implanted. Criminal penalties for destroying a fertilized egg do not apply to:

The screening, collecting, preparing, transferring, or cryopreserving of a human
being created through in vitro fertilization for the purpose of being transferred to a
human uterus.
c. The disposal or destruction of a fertilized human ovum, zygote, or embryo,
created through in vitro fertilization, which has been subject to medical testing
and analysis, and in the reasonable judgment of a medical professional, if
transferred to a human uterus, would not produce a live birth.
d. The disposal or destruction of a fertilized human ovum, zygote, or embryo,
created through in vitro fertilization which has not progressed in development for
thirty – six hours in culture .

After that 36 hours, however, it looks like your options are implant it somewhere, or keep it frozen indefinitely.

As if the multiple attempts to ban abortion all together weren’t enough, the state will also take a swing at closing down the sole clinic by introducing the same TRAP law that has now put Jackson Women’s Health Organization in jeopardy. A combination of admitting privileges to a local hospital and a requirement that the doctor performing the abortion be a board certified OB-Gyn is likely expected to have the same effect for Red River as it is currently having down south. Even more daunting for the North Dakota clinic, however, is the fact that for many women in the state, if that clinic closes their next nearest option is the Planned Parenthood Clinic in South Dakota, which may have a 72-hour waiting period and potentially a mandatory crisis pregnancy center counseling session in effect as well.

Even without actually closing down the clinic or giving fertilized eggs legal rights, the legislature still has a backup plan to eliminate almost all abortions—a heartbeat ban. If all other bills fail, the state may still just eliminate abortions as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, sometimes less than 28 days post conception. Not a coincidence is this language, which makes it a crime to perform an abortion without first checking for a heartbeat.

Except when a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance with this subsection, an individual may not perform an abortion on a pregnant woman before determining, in accordance with standard medical practice, if the unborn child the pregnant woman is carrying has a detectable heartbeat. Any individual who performs an abortion on a pregnant woman based on the exception in this subsection shall note in the pregnant woman’s medical records that a medical emergency necessitating the abortion existed.

Red River Clinic states that they have no equipment to listen for a heartbeat at this time.

“Anti-choice politicians in North Dakota have undertaken an all-out assault on women’s constitutionally protected rights, introducing not one, but five bills that would end safe and legal abortion in the state,” Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights said via email statement. The CRR is representing Red River Clinic in a lawsuit over a 2011 medication abortion restriction bill.

“Whether through tactics that outright ban abortion or backdoor efforts to block women’s access to reproductive health care providers, the end result is the same: women will be gravely harmed,” continued Northup. “We strongly urge the members of these legislative committees to support women’s access to basic health care and reject these extreme measures that are both unconstitutional and dangerous for North Dakota women.”

All of the bills were heatedly debated in testemony at the state capital, where opponents of abortion called it murder, and said that TRAP laws that could close the only clinic were “safety” issues that no one could oppose “except those with a vested financial interest,” according to the Bismark Tribune.

Also testifying, a woman who noted that with the new limits of “personhood” that would be put in place on invitro fertilization, her own existence never would have occurred. “I strongly believe my parents and the doctors are not abortionists, but rather miracle workers who brought life when there was none,” said Alexis Grabinger, High School senior and daughter of state Senator James Grabiner.

News Abortion

Alabama Republicans Push ‘Heartbeat,’ ‘Personhood’ Abortion Bans

Teddy Wilson

So-called heartbeat abortion bans have been repeatedly found to be unconstitutional because they seek to ban the procedure months before the point at which a fetus is viable.

Alabama’s Republican-dominated legislature is once again proposing some of the country’s most radical measures to restrict abortion care.

Republicans have filed a pair of bills that would outlaw abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which would ban the procedure as early as six weeks’ gestation, or before many people even know they are pregnant.

So-called heartbeat abortion bans have been repeatedly found to be unconstitutional because they seek to ban the procedure months before the point at which a fetus is viable.

There were 8,080 abortions reported in Alabama during 2014, and 3,457 (42.7 percent) of those took place after six weeks’ gestation, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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Mia Raven, legislative director of Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates, told Rewire that she thinks lawmakers should focus on priorities that benefit all of the state’s residents.

“They need to work on better solutions for Alabama,” Raven said. “All these bills end up debated in courts of law and that cost money, and that is money that the state of Alabama nor its citizens have for these types of bills.”

HB 21, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), would prohibit a physician from performing an abortion on a pregnant person without first determining if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. If a physician performs an abortion after the detection of a heartbeat, the physician could be charged with a Class C felony, which carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Collins, who has compiled a staunchly anti-choice voting record during her time in the legislature, co-sponsored a similar bill in 2014 and was the primary sponsor of one in 2015.  

Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) introduced an identical companion bill, SB 9, and is partnering with Collins on the legislation. Allen told Rewire that Collins has been a “very strong advocate for the sanctity of life,” and the two lawmakers will attempt to move the bills through their respective chambers.

Allen said that it’s important to take opportunities “to put together legislation that will encourage the mother to carry that child full-term and to have that child instead of aborting the baby.”

Allen has sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation during his time in the legislature. He was elected as a state representative in 1994 before being elected to the senate in 2010. Allen sponsored bills to restrict medication abortion and ban insurance coverage of abortion in 2011 and 2012, and he was a co-sponsor of a so-called personhood bill in 2013.

Courts have repeatedly rejected so-called heartbeat bans. Republicans in Arkansas and North Dakota passed so-called heartbeat legislation in 2013, and both laws were blocked in court.

Allen acknowledged the successful court challenges to “heartbeat” bans, but said that it was important to continue to debate the issue.

“We do understand that there are certain court battles taking place and some rulings that are forthcoming, and this may be discouraging to pro-life people like myself,” Allen said. “But I think it’s important to keep it before the people.”

Both bills have been referred to committee, and await hearings.

Allen declined to speculate on the possibility of either bill being being passed by committee or receiving a floor vote, and reiterated that he thinks it’s important to keep raising the issue.

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) is reportedly drafting a pair of anti-choice bills, but has yet to file any legislation, including a bill that would propose a constitutional amendment that would define life as beginning at conception.

So-called personhood amendments seek to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as “persons,” and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution, including the right to life from the moment of conception.

Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told Rewire that these laws, if enacted, could have widespread impact on reproductive health care.

“If they declare a fetus is a person at conception that would prevent access to safe and legal abortion,” Watson said. “It could also have an impact on many other health-care areas.”

Henry told the Times Daily that he would like the amendment to appear on the November ballot despite repeated voter rejection of the anti-choice measure. “If I can get it on any ballot, I think it will pass,” Henry said. “It’s just a matter of getting it out of the legislature.”

If a “personhood” ballot measure were to be approved in Alabama, it would be the first time voters in any state approved such a measure. “Personhood” amendments have been defeated by wide margins in Colorado, North Dakota, and Mississippi.

“If it did not pass in Mississippi, it will not pass in Alabama,” Raven said. “I think when people come to realize the full scope of personhood, including the possible bans on contraception, they think it’s government overreach gone way too far.”

Henry is reportedly preparing to file a bill, similar to legislation he sponsored in 2015, that would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from issuing or renewing a health center license to an abortion clinic or reproductive health center located within 2,000 feet of a public school.

The bill would have regulated abortion clinics in the same manner as registered sex offenders. “It’s insulting to women to compare a reproductive health-care center to sex offenders,” Raven said.

The legislation targeted the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville, which is the only clinic that provides abortion services in northern Alabama. The Rev. James Henderson, an anti-choice activist and member of the Alabama State Republican Executive Committee, took credit for drafting the legislation and said that the bill was designed to force the Alabama Women’s Center to close.

“You can’t target a particular clinic just because you don’t like what they’re doing,” Watson said.

During an anti-choice protest in January, Henderson told AL.com that the legislation would be a priority for Gov. Robert Bentley (R) during the 2016 legislative session. “We think that’s a disgrace that there’s an abortion clinic directly across the street from a public school,” Henderson said. “We have good pledges from our legislators to help get this through the system.”

The bill was passed by lawmakers in the Republican-controlled house, and then passed by a state senate committee with three days left in the 2015 legislative session. The bill was never brought to the state senate floor for a vote.

Alabama lawmakers in 2015 failed to pass any anti-choice legislation, despite Republicans having a sizable majority.

News Abortion

South Dakota GOP Proposes Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban

Jenn Stanley

South Dakota Republicans last week introduced legislation that would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization with very few exceptions.

South Dakota Republicans last week commemorated the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade by introducing a 20-week abortion ban. The state senate gave a first read of SB 72 on Friday.

The bill seeks to ban abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, unless there is a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including a psychological or emotional condition” to the pregnant person.

Sen. Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre) is SB 72’s primary sponsor, and all 13 co-sponsors are Republicans. Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-Sioux Falls) sponsored the corresponding house bill, along with 36 Republican co-sponsors.

South Dakota currently adheres to the viability laws as outlined in the Roe v. Wade decision. In the 1973 decision, the court defined viable to mean capable of prolonged life outside the womb, and accepted the conventional medical opinion that a fetus becomes viable at the beginning of the third trimester, typically between the 24th and 28th week.

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South Dakota has found other ways to restrict abortion rights. It was one of 15 states to receive a failing grade for its reproductive health record on the Population Institute’s 2014 report card, which measured effectiveness, prevention, affordability, and access. Since 2011, South Dakota’s GOP has forced a 72-hour waiting period and a crisis pregnancy center visit on women seeking abortion care.

There is one abortion clinic operating in the state.

Several states have passed similar unconstitutional bans based on the dubious suggestion that the fetus can feel pain 20 weeks post-fertilization. The medical community, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, has disputed that claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to revive an even more restrictive law in North Dakota, which would have banned abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, letting stand a federal appeals court decision striking it as unconstitutional.

If South Dakota’s 20-week ban passes, doctors would be required to attempt to save the fetus in abortions attempted at 20 weeks and later. Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said in a statement that these types of laws take deeply personal decisions away from women and their medical providers.

“In states that have passed laws like this, some women and their families have been put into heartbreaking and tragic situations—needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but unable to do so,” Stoesz said. “Decisions about pregnancy are not for state politicians to make and the latest polls show that the overwhelming majority of voters say this is the wrong issue for state legislators to be spending time on. This bill is about politics, not medicine.”

The South Dakota GOP holds a 58-12 majority in the house and a 27-8 stranglehold in the state senate.