News Abortion

First Three Anti-Choice Bills Head to Gov. Dalrymple’s Desk as Veto Watch Begins

Robin Marty

All eyes turn to North Dakota's governor as bills that could potentially end abortion in the state hit his desk for approval.

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There must be something about the Easter holiday that gets anti-choice legislators excited about eliminating reproductive rights. Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced in a Good Friday news dump that, along with number of other bills, he had signed into law an abortion restriction that would in essence end the ability to obtain a medication abortion in the state. This year, it could be North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) who cuts off women’s right to choose.

The North Dakota legislature has announced that it has sent the first three of its four new abortion restrictions to the governor for a vote. If enacted, those bills would cut off abortion access for the vast majority of pregnant women in the state.

Heading to the governor’s desk is a ban on abortions from the point at which a heartbeat can be detected (often sometime between the fifth and sixth week of pregnancy), a ban on abortions allegedly performed because of a preference for a certain gender or due to genetic problem with the fetus, and a bill that would require any doctor performing abortions in the state’s only clinic to have admitting privileges to a local hospital, which Red River Women’s clinic says will likely be impossible to obtain.

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Not heading over for a signature is a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, which must return to the state senate to approve an amendment that would do away with a federally funded sex-ed program for at-risk teens.

Reproductive rights activists across the state are preparing a series of rallies to show public opposition to these bills and to call on the governor to veto them rather than sign them into law. At the same time, both politicians and journalists continue to call out the governor and the legislature about the costs of inevitable court challenges if the laws are signed or a veto is overridden. “[T]he abortion issue … involves the deepest possible questions of religion, governance, authority, morality and even life itself,” argues the editorial board of the Grand Forks Herald, a North Dakota newspaper. “It should be resolved in the way that confers the truest and most widely accepted legitimacy: by a popular vote. By vetoing the other anti-abortion bills that reach his desk, Dalrymple can clear the way for that debate. He would help the state avoid costly and divisive court battles, too.”

Whether the state has to pay for any legal costs remains a question at the forefront of the debate. Liberty Counsel, an “international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,” has already offered to defend any lawsuits for the state pro-bono, according to bill sponsors. Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo) also told the Forum News Service that legal fees should be a non-issue, because “the state already spends millions of dollars in legal battles with the Environmental Protection Agency, so litigation costs shouldn’t matter.” Grande went on, “Is that more important than the life of a child?”

Legal costs aside, more legislators are beginning to publicly reject the anti-woman bills heading to the governor. But it remains to be seen if enough of them are speaking out to convince Dalrymple to veto, or if there will be enough to keep his veto intact if he does.

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