News Abortion

As Voters Consider Abortion Rights Crackdown, Two North Dakota Women Speak Out

Teddy Wilson

North Dakota voters will decide on Election Day whether to add an amendment to the state constitution defining life as beginning at conception. While the debate surrounding so-called personhood amendments often takes the form of competing ideological and political differences, the human impact is often omitted, or wildly distorted.

Read more of our articles on North Dakota Measure 1 here.

North Dakota voters will decide on Election Day whether to add an amendment to the state constitution defining life as beginning at conception. While the debate surrounding so-called personhood amendments often takes the form of competing ideological and political differences, the human impact is often omitted, or wildly distorted.

North Dakota’s radical “personhood” amendment, giving full legal rights to zygotes, is widely seen as the country’s most sweeping crackdown on abortion rights.

Becky Matthews was born in South Dakota and moved to North Dakota in 1984 while she was in the fourth grade. “I’m a good ‘ol Dakota girl,” she said in a heavy Dakotan accent during an interview with Rewire.

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“I grew up in a very conservative church,” Matthews said. “I was never going to be a woman that needed an abortion.”

After having two children, Matthews and her husband decided that they wanted to once again grow their family.

Matthews remembers the exact date. “It was May 30, 2007.” She was 16 weeks pregnant and an ultrasound had revealed that she was pregnant with identical twins. A day later she received a phone call and was told that the twins shared a placenta.

A week after that phone call, it was revealed that her doctor suspected twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a rare condition that causes the fetuses to share blood. One fetus becomes a “donor” and the other becomes the “recipient.” At the time only 14 health-care facilities in the country could treat such a condition.

Matthews and her husband flew to Cincinnati to seek care at one of those facilities.

After testing and consultation with medical professionals at the Cincinnati Fetal Center, Matthews and her husband carefully considered their options. One option was for Matthews to go on bed rest in an attempt to prolong the pregnancy until at least 24 weeks of gestation and attempt to deliver both twins early. Another option was an invasive laser surgery to separate the fetuses, which could have had negative consequences for both of them.

The final option was termination: abort the “recipient” fetus to save the “donor.”

Matthews and her husband flew back home to North Dakota on Father’s Day weekend. She was nearly 20 weeks pregnant. All of the options were on the table. On the Tuesday after Father’s Day she went to her doctor’s office for an ultrasound.

“We didn’t have heartbeats. I delivered them on June 21, stillborn.”

Matthews looks back at her memories at the Cincinnati Fetal Center and the difficult decisions she and her husband had to contemplate and comes to one conclusion: “There’s no right decision, they all stink,” she said, her voice brimming with emotion. “I remember saying to my husband ‘How did we end up here?’ Three weeks ago we were in a healthy pregnancy. How did we get here?”

“I remember looking out the hospital window at the busy street and thinking, ‘Everyone else’s life is going on.’ I felt like my life was never going to be the same. To be honest, after a loss like that, your life is never the same,” she said.

While Matthews never struggled with questioning the decisions she and her husband made, she questioned her faith. “It was really hard to make sense of how … you’re supposed to be six months along and all of a sudden you’re visiting a cemetery.”

When a friend shared with her that she had an abortion due to a genetic diagnosis, she realized how close to that decision they had been. “I was like, that could have been me,” Matthews said.

North Dakota lawmakers considered HB 1305 during the 2013 legislative session, raising red flags for abortion rights advocates nationwide. The bill would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for a physician to perform an abortion based on gender or a genetic abnormality. Matthews said that reading about the bill in the local newspaper made her angry. The conversation around HB 1305 had no consideration for the difficult decisions women and families are forced to make.

“I just kept thinking about how difficult it is to make those decisions and how dare [lawmakers] think they should tell a family what their decisions should or should not be,” said Matthews.

After contacting reproductive rights advocates in the state, she told her family that she would testify against HB 1305. Matthews would also testify against other anti-choice bills, including SCR 4009, which was the legislatively referred amendment that became Measure 1, the ballot initiative North Dakotans will vote on next Tuesday.

After being signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) in May 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, filed a federal lawsuit challenging HB 1305. The lawsuit was later dismissed at the request of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Matthews said she’s been motivated to speak out about her experience in part because of the countless people who have shared their stories with her privately. Many opponents to the anti-choice measures, she said, feel they can’t speak publicly about their opposition.

“There is some family that will hear my story and not know it will impact them for years to come. I hope they know that whatever decision they make is OK,” she said.

Many of Matthews’ friends and family consider themselves “pro-life.” But, she said, “they still love and respect me” because they see her story as “different.”

“It’s not different,” she said.

“I don’t feel horrible about the decision I made. I feel horrible about the people who called me … a baby killer”

Angie Brown, born and raised in rural North Dakota, had an abortion a quarter century ago. She has never spoken about her abortion publicly, and said that she has only told three people in those 25 years. Brown said the stigma surrounding abortion in her home state is so pervasive, she fears that if her story became publicly known she would be shunned by friends and family. She even fears being fired from her job.

Brown spoke to Rewire on the condition that a pseudonym be used to protect her identity.

Brown was sexually assaulted when she was a student in college. Her first boyfriend in the wake of the rape pressured her into having sex, and she became pregnant as a result. She was 19 years old. She had quit college due to the trauma of the assault, and then her boyfriend left her.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Brown went to a crisis pregnancy center—facilities that are infamous for distributing false information and deploying scare tactics—but she was concerned about the singular focus the counselors had on her carrying the pregnancy to term. “It was pretty clear that she was more interesting in the pregnancy than she was me as a human being,” she said of a CPC staffer.

Brown’s mother was the first person who told her abortion was an option.

“Don’t you have to go to the cities for that?” Brown asked her mother. “She said that I could go to Fargo. I actually had no idea that there was a clinic in Fargo or that [abortion] was an option at all.”

This was in the late 1980s.

When Brown confided in a friend about the situation, he put her in touch with his sister, who had both carried a pregnancy to term and had an abortion. “She didn’t tell me to do one or the other. She just told me what it was like to have an abortion, and what it was like to have a baby,” Brown said.

At nine weeks pregnant, Brown made an appointment to terminate the pregnancy. A friend drove her to Fargo, three hours away from her home, where she had an abortion.

Now 44 years old, Brown is a college graduate with a career. She is also a mother to a 13-year-old son. She does not regret her decision.

“I don’t feel horrible about the decision I made. I feel horrible about the people who called me a ‘slut’ and the people that called me a ‘baby killer,’” Brown said, “knowing that those people could be living next door to me, or working with me or could be my friends and family.”

“The stigma is the judgement people place on you for doing what you know is best for you,” she said.

Recent research reveals how difficult it can be to even study the stigma of abortion, and advocates at organizations like the Sea Change Program are working to both understand and combat the stigma surrounding abortion.

Both Matthews and Brown think that if more women spoke about their abortion experiences, it might change minds and add much-needed voices to conversations dominated by extreme anti-choice politicians.

“If I’m a group of 50 women or 100 women that came out and said, ‘Yes, I did this,’ that would be different. But as far as I know, I’m a group of one,” Brown said.

Matthews worries about the consequences on women and their families if Measure 1 is passed on Election Day. “I’ve thought about that,” Matthews said, no longer able to control her tears. “I have two daughters, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay here and raise them.”

“For a girl that loves horseback riding and doing stuff with the cattle—I just don’t know how long I could stay [in North Dakota] and fight.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Analysis Abortion

Legislators Have Introduced 445 Provisions to Restrict Abortion So Far This Year

Elizabeth Nash & Rachel Benson Gold

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of these, 35 percent (445 provisions) sought to restrict access to abortion services. By midyear, 17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions.

Including these new restrictions, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010, constituting 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

Mid year state restrictions


Signs of Progress

The first half of the year ended on a high note, with the U.S. Supreme Court handing down the most significant abortion decision in a generation. The Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down abortion restrictions in Texas requiring abortion facilities in the state to convert to the equivalent of ambulatory surgical centers and mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital; these two restrictions had greatly diminished access to services throughout the state (see Lessons from Texas: Widespread Consequences of Assaults on Abortion Access). Five other states (Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia) have similar facility requirements, and the Texas decision makes it less likely that these laws would be able to withstand judicial scrutiny (see Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Nineteen other states have abortion facility requirements that are less onerous than the ones in Texas; the fate of these laws in the wake of the Court’s decision remains unclear. 

Ten states in addition to Texas had adopted hospital admitting privileges requirements. The day after handing down the Texas decision, the Court declined to review lower court decisions that have kept such requirements in Mississippi and Wisconsin from going into effect, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced that he would not enforce the state’s law. As a result of separate litigation, enforcement of admitting privileges requirements in Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma is currently blocked. That leaves admitting privileges in effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah; as with facility requirements, the Texas decision will clearly make it harder for these laws to survive if challenged.

More broadly, the Court’s decision clarified the legal standard for evaluating abortion restrictions. In its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court had said that abortion restrictions could not impose an undue burden on a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy. In Whole Woman’s Health, the Court stressed the importance of using evidence to evaluate the extent to which an abortion restriction imposes a burden on women, and made clear that a restriction’s burdens cannot outweigh its benefits, an analysis that will give the Texas decision a reach well beyond the specific restrictions at issue in the case.

As important as the Whole Woman’s Health decision is and will be going forward, it is far from the only good news so far this year. Legislators in 19 states introduced a bevy of measures aimed at expanding insurance coverage for contraceptive services. In 13 of these states, the proposed measures seek to bolster the existing federal contraceptive coverage requirement by, for example, requiring coverage of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved methods and banning the use of techniques such as medical management and prior authorization, through which insurers may limit coverage. But some proposals go further and plow new ground by mandating coverage of sterilization (generally for both men and women), allowing a woman to obtain an extended supply of her contraceptive method (generally up to 12 months), and/or requiring that insurance cover over-the-counter contraceptive methods. By July 1, both Maryland and Vermont had enacted comprehensive measures, and similar legislation was pending before Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). And, in early July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a measure into law allowing women to obtain a year’s supply of their contraceptive method.


But the Assault Continues

Even as these positive developments unfolded, the long-standing assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights continued apace. Much of this attention focused on the release a year ago of a string of deceptively edited videos designed to discredit Planned Parenthood. The campaign these videos spawned initially focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and has grown into an effort to defund family planning providers more broadly, especially those who have any connection to abortion services. Since last July, 24 states have moved to restrict eligibility for funding in several ways:

  • Seventeen states have moved to limit family planning providers’ eligibility for reimbursement under Medicaid, the program that accounts for about three-fourths of all public dollars spent on family planning. In some cases, states have tried to exclude Planned Parenthood entirely from such funding. These attacks have come via both administrative and legislative means. For instance, the Florida legislature included a defunding provision in an omnibus abortion bill passed in March. As the controversy grew, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers Medicaid, sent a letter to state officials reiterating that federal law prohibits them from discriminating against family planning providers because they either offer abortion services or are affiliated with an abortion provider (see CMS Provides New Clarity For Family Planning Under Medicaid). Most of these state attempts have been blocked through legal challenges. However, a funding ban went into effect in Mississippi on July 1, and similar measures are awaiting implementation in three other states.
  • Fourteen states have moved to restrict family planning funds controlled by the state, with laws enacted in four states. The law in Kansas limits funding to publicly run programs, while the law in Louisiana bars funding to providers who are associated with abortion services. A law enacted in Wisconsin directs the state to apply for federal Title X funding and specifies that if this funding is obtained, it may not be distributed to family planning providers affiliated with abortion services. (In 2015, New Hampshire moved to deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood affiliates; the state reversed the decision in 2016.) Finally, the budget adopted in Michigan reenacts a provision that bars the allocation of family planning funds to organizations associated with abortion. Notably, however, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a similar measure.
  • Ten states have attempted to bar family planning providers’ eligibility for related funding, including monies for sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, prevention of interpersonal violence, and prevention of breast and cervical cancer. In three of these states, the bans are the result of legislative action; in Utah, the ban resulted from action by the governor. Such a ban is in effect in North Carolina; the Louisiana measure is set to go into effect in August. Implementation of bans in Ohio and Utah has been blocked as a result of legal action.


The first half of 2016 was also noteworthy for a raft of attempts to ban some or all abortions. These measures fell into four distinct categories:

  • By the end of June, four states enacted legislation to ban the most common method used to perform abortions during the second trimester. The Mississippi and West Virginia laws are in effect; the other two have been challenged in court. (Similar provisions enacted last year in Kansas and Oklahoma are also blocked pending legal action.)
  • South Carolina and North Dakota both enacted measures banning abortion at or beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. This brings to 16 the number of states with these laws in effect (see State Policies on Later Abortions).
  • Indiana and Louisiana adopted provisions banning abortions under specific circumstances. The Louisiana law banned abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization in cases of diagnosed genetic anomaly; the law is slated to go into effect on August 1. Indiana adopted a groundbreaking measure to ban abortion for purposes of race or sex selection, in cases of a genetic anomaly, or because of the fetus’ “color, national origin, or ancestry”; enforcement of the measure is blocked pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
  • Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a sweeping measure that would have banned all abortions except those necessary to protect the woman’s life.


In addition, 14 states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) enacted other types of abortion restrictions during the first half of the year, including measures to impose or extend waiting periods, restrict access to medication abortion, and establish regulations on abortion clinics.

Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.