News Politics

North Dakota Voters Reject ‘Personhood’ Measure

Teddy Wilson

North Dakota voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure to amend the state constitution to define life as beginning at conception. A similar so-called personhood amendment was defeated in Colorado as well.

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

North Dakota voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure to amend the state constitution to define life as beginning at conception. A similar so-called personhood amendment was defeated in Colorado as well.

The North Dakota measure was defeated by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent, though anti-choice advocates say they are unfazed by the results and will fight to put a personhood measure on another North Dakota ballot.

Public opinion polls leading up to Election Day had indicated that the vote might be close, and political observers in the state said that the measure was likely to be approved.

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Opponents of the measure campaigned on the effects it would have on not only abortion rights, but also how it would affect a variety of reproductive health-care decisions facing North Dakota women.

North Dakotans Against Measure 1 chairman Dina Butcher told the Bismarck Tribune that the rejection of the measure was a victory for women and families.

“This measure was defeated because of the impact it would have had to families’ end-of-life decisions, because it would have ended in vitro fertilization in our state, and because it would have banned abortion without exceptions for rape and incest victims or to save the life of the woman,” Butcher said.

Lawmakers placed the measure on the ballot with the passage of SCR 4009 in March 2013. It was passed narrowly in the state senate by a 26-21 vote, and then overwhelmingly in the house by a 57-35 vote.

The primary sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Margaret Sitte (R-Bismarck), was also rejected by voters, losing her bid for re-election to Democrat Erin Oban. Another prominent supporter of the measure, Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo), lost to Democrat Pamela Anderson.

Oban defeated Sitte by a surprisingly wide margin of 58 to 41 percent. “I’m very humbled and shocked to be honest,” Oban told the Bismarck Tribune. “I was expecting a very close race.”

Supporters of the measure were disappointed but undeterred by the defeat.

“We are, of course, very disappointed with the results of the balloting tonight, but we are not deterred or dissuaded from the cause of life, nor will we give up the fight,” North Dakota Choose Life chairman Janne Myrdal said in statement.

Once reason supporters may be optimistic is that when the state legislature convenes in January, Republicans will control significant majorities in both the state house and senate. Lawmakers passed anti-choice legislation during the 2013 legislative session, and they can do so once again in 2015.

The defeat adds to a growing list of electoral defeats for the personhood movement. Similar personhood amendments have now been defeated in Colorado three times—2008, 2010, and 2014—and once in Mississippi in 2011.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”

News Abortion

Iowa GOP Legislator: Ending Legal Abortion ‘Impossible’ Without ‘Personhood’ Laws

Teddy Wilson

GOP-backed "personhood" laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain traction in many legislatures.

An Iowa Republican plans to introduce a measure defining life as beginning at conception in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down an anti-choice Texas law, which has limited states’ ability to restrict abortion care access.

State Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) told IowaWatch that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt proves that the anti-choice movement’s attack on abortion rights is not working.

“The Supreme Court decision reinforced that incrementally ending abortion is impossible,” Schultz said. “You either have it or you don’t.”

So-called personhood laws seek to classify fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as people, and to grant them full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

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GOP-backed “personhood” laws have been an unmitigated failure. Voters in state after state have rejected by wide margins personhood ballot initiatives, and personhood bills have failed to gain traction in many legislatures.

Personhood bills were introduced this year by Republican lawmakers in Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, and Rhode Island.

Rachel Lopez, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told IowaWatch that personhood measures are routinely introduced in Iowa but have failed to gain traction in the GOP-dominated legislature.

“Although we have not yet seen the details of this impending effort, we are confident that it also will fail to advance,” Lopez said. “Personhood bills are a waste of both time and taxpayer dollars, as they have failed time and again in Iowa and other states.”

Iowa lawmakers this year introduced SJR 2001, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution specifying that the document does not secure or protect a fundamental right to abortion care.

SJR 2001 was referred to the senate rules and administration committee, but never received a hearing or a vote.

Schultz, who was elected to the state senate in 2014 after serving in the house, has sponsored or co-sponsored several anti-choice bills while in the state legislature, including personhood measures.

SF 478, sponsored by Schultz during the 2015 legislative session, would have defined “person” when referring to the victim of a murder, to mean “an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.”

Mark Kende, director of Drake University’s Constitutional Law Center, told IowaWatch that Schultz’s proposal would not survive in the courts.

“He can try to pass that legislation but it certainly wouldn’t trump the federal Constitution,” Kende said. “Even if that language got into the state constitution it can’t defy three Supreme Court decisions in the last 40 years.”

Gov. Terry Branstad (R) told IowaWatch that he could not support Schultz’s proposal.

“I’m pro-life and I want to do what I can to encourage things that can protect the lives of unborn children,” Branstad said. “Yet I also recognize that we have to live with the restrictions that have been placed on the states by the courts.”

Branstad signed many of the state’s laws restricting abortion access that came up during the latter part of his first term as governor.