The North Dakota House passed three of four abortion-related pieces of legislation Friday which, if signed by the governor, would sharply increase restrictions on abortion.
Among the three bills that passed was a right-to-life resolution that now goes to the voters in 2014. Coupled with the two bills passed in the Senate last week, the Legislature has now put five bills before the governor that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.
First to be considered on the floor was Senate Bill 2305, which would limit abortions and requires any physician performing an abortion to be licensed in the state. It also requires physicians to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Rep. Vernon Laning, R-Bismarck, urged his colleagues to pass SB2305.
“This deals with the health and safety of women having abortions,” Laning said.
Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, took exception to the argument that additional protections were needed. She said the mortality rate for childbirth was several times higher than that of abortions.
According to a study listed on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, the U.S. childhood mortality rate for childbirth from 1998 to 2005 was 8.8 per 100,000 live births. This was compared to 0.6 abortions per 100,000 live births.
“We are dealing with an unnecessary bill,” Oversen said.
SB2305 passed minutes later by a 58-34 vote.
The second bill to pass, SB2368, would ban abortions after 20 weeks after fertilization except to prevent the death of the mother or prevent serious medical complications. Physicians who perform an abortion after 20 weeks could face a Class C felony and fines.
An amendment passed Thursday would bar K-12 schools and colleges from contracting with or providing financial support to entities that perform, refer or counsel in favor of abortions.
Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, was the first of several Democrats to question bill carrier Rep. Peter Silbernagel, R-Casselton, on the bill.
“Are there exceptions for cases of rape and incest ... anywhere in this language?” Mooney said.
Silbernagel replied that there weren’t.
Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, questioned Thursday’s amendment. He noted a Feb. 14 North Dakota at-torney general’s opinion that reversed the freezing of a $1.2 million federal sex education grant for North Dakota State University.
“Can you explain how this bill is enforceable now under federal law?” Boschee said.
Silbernagel said the bill isn’t retroactive to that specific instance.
“This bill is forward-thinking,” Silbernagel said.
Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, said there was no issue with SB2368, or with the amendment which she had proposed.
“The attorney general didn’t decide or rule anything unconstitutional,” Grande said.
She said the attorney general’s opinion left the issue of constitutionality open.
The final sentence of the Feb. 14 opinion reads:
“This opinion is issued pursuant to North Dakota Century Code. ... It governs the actions of public officials until such time as the question presented is decided by the courts.”
Moments later, SB2368 passed by a vote of 60-32.
This resolution would declare an inalienable right to life at all stages of development. SCR4009 also calls for a 2014 general election vote to have language affirming the right put in the state Constitution.
Rep. Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown, asked bill carrier Rep. Alex Looysen, R-Jamestown, if SCR4009 determined when life begins.
Looysen answered that the resolution doesn’t define the moment life begins. He said the Legislature could put that specifically into state law in the future if it chose to do so.
Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden, spoke in favor of SCR4009. He said the resolution would enhance North Dakota’s already strong pro-life culture.
“We already protect it (life) at almost every stage, except from conception to birth,” Damschen said.
Damschen said the state must take the life of the unborn child into consideration along with the mother.
“I’m all for women’s rights,” Damschen said. However, he said, the child must be protected as well.
Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, supported SCR4009. He made a rebuttal to Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, who had listed alternative views on abortion from several Christian denominations, sects of Judaism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Kasper replied by referencing “thou shall not kill” from the biblical Ten Commandments as well as the words “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” from the book of Jeremiah.
“Unfortunately God didn’t make the law. He made the Scripture,” Kasper said. He said it was up to the Legislature to pass sensible laws.
SCR4009 passed by a 57-35 vote shortly after Kasper spoke.
The lone bill to fail Friday was SB2303. The bill would define a human being as a person at all stages of development. SB2303 also would allow for an abortion in the event of a medical emergency that could endanger a woman’s life. It also contains an amendment allowing for Medicaid coverage to pregnant mothers.
Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, asked that the bill be divided into two separate divisions for debate. The motion was granted.
The first division of SB2303 included Sections 1-3 and Section 6. These sections related to everything but the Medicaid expansion provisions of the bill. The second division was the two remaining sections relating to Medicaid and the cost of pregnancy and delivery costs for a child.
Mooney asked bill carrier Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, if SB2303 could end up being challenged in court.
“I can’t speculate to whether it will be challenged,” Weisz said. “I expect that it could.”
Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said SB2303 puts the definition of a human being into the state’s criminal code. He said the language is already in state law in the Abortion Control Act. He said there are many things in state law that are also added to the criminal code.
“This is not really groundbreaking to move this language to the criminal code,” Ruby said.
Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, stood in favor of SB2303. He said an average of 25 abortions are performed each week at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s only abortion facility.
“A kindergarten class per week is gone,” Carlson said.
He said the abortion debate has gone on numerous times in his 20 years in office. Carlson said what’s changed is that it’s become a severely toxic political issue.
“Pick your side. Stay on your side,” Carlson said. “But don’t politicize.”
The first division of the bill passed by a 59-33 vote minutes after Carlson spoke. The second division then passed by a 90-2 margin.
“No state has made a statement like we’ve made today,” Weisz said. He said the state must stand by its decisions whatever happens in terms of legal action if the bills are signed by the governor.
The full SB2303 failed by a 49-43 vote.
If the bills are signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple some, if not all, of the abortion bills could face potentially expensive legal challenges.
Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, during a debate that aired Tuesday on a Fargo-Grand Forks television station, talked about defending the legislation.
Sitte said the Liberty Counsel and the Thomas More Law Center have expressed interest in footing the bill to defend the bills in court.
The Thomas More Law Center and Liberty Counsel are both 501(c)(3) organizations that take on cases including abortion and religious issues.