North Dakota Passes Arkansas as Worst State for Abortion Rights

6066651519_dc61c9e2e6This morning, North Dakota’s Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law three bills that will push the state past Arkansas in terms of having the country’s strictest abortion bans. The first measure he signed would ban abortion at the point that a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected (about six weeks). A second measure makes North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects, and the third requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles. These measures are scheduled to take effect August 1.

The six-week ban is a direct challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which allows abortions up to the point of viability, usually 24 weeks, and later in pregnancy if the health or life of the mother is threatened.

The Republican-controlled North Dakota legislature also passed a personhood state Constitutional amendment, which would ban the termination of a pregnancy from the moment of conception. Voters will still decide on whether to approve it through a referendum on the November 2014 ballot; it will not require the governor’s signature.

The third measure Gov. Dalrymple signed is a TRAP (Targeted Regulation Against Abortion Providers) law that aims to shut down North Dakota’s only abortion facility, the Red River Women’s Clinic. The admitting privileges requirement is impossible for the physicians of Red River Women’s Clinic to meet, since they typically travel each week from outside of the state to perform abortions in North Dakota. Hospitals almost never grant admitting privileges to physicians who don’t have offices in their community. In addition, admitting privileges are unnecessary, since patients facing an emergency would be transferred to a local hospital where they would be attended to by physicians on duty.

Dalrymple acknowledged that the constitutionality of these laws will be challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but he believes it is a “legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.” The governor has also said he is prepared to appropriate taxpayer funds for the state attorney general to defend the new measures in court. Due to an oil industry boom in the state, North Dakota has a large budget surplus, which will help the legislature pay for the impending legal battles.

 Photo of Gov. Dalrymple in Bismarck by NDNG via Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine