The North Dakota Senate passed three of four abortion bills during its Thursday floor session, some of which drew sharp debate and a flurry of mostly-failed amendments.
The four bills had been before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28 drawing hours of testimony. The four bills, in the order they were heard on the floor Thursday, were:
* Senate Bill 2305: Limits abortions and requires any physician performing an abortion must be licensed in the state, have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be licensed in obstetrics and gynecology.
* Senate Concurrent Resolution 4009: Would declare an inalienable right to life at all stages of development. SCR4009 also calls for a 2014 primary election vote to have language affirming the right be put in the state Constitution.
* Senate Bill 2303: Defines a human being as a person at all stages of development. Would allow an abortion in the event of a medical emergency that could endanger a woman’s life.
* Senate Bill 2302: Creates a Right To Life Act. SB2302 also bans abortions except in the case of saving a woman’s life in the event of a medical emergency. It also bars the use of chemicals for abortions.
Sen. Spencer Berry, R-Fargo, said SB2305 was specifically to ensure the best care possible for women, not a move at eliminating abortion in the state.
“This is not about abortion rights,” Berry said.
Debate followed on a pair of amendments to SB2305 followed Berry’s comments. One was an amendment by Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, to have a $1 million appropriation for the attorney general’s office for future legal challenges to the bill. Both amendments failed.
Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, a sponsor of SB2305, said he’d had a change of heart on the bill since it was introduced.
“All it says to me is that it will close the abortion clinic in Fargo,” Lyson said. “Decisions should be left up to the parents and their doctor and their God, not be left up to the Legislature.”
Berry said the bill does nothing of the sort.
“This bill is … intended to deliver quality care to those receiving care in North Dakota,” Berry said.
SB2305 passed by a 30-17 vote moments later.
Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, spoke in favor of SCR4009 as debate began, saying the government has no right to abridge the inalienable right to life. She said an average of 25 abortions are performed per week at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo.
“That’s a classroom of children per week, 100 per month, 1,200 per year,” Sitte said. “This amendment is intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.”
Triplett objected to SCR4009, questioning both the need to put the issue to a vote of the people and personhood of a fetus.
“They’re not independent human beings,” Triplett said of a fetus. “We have no business putting that question before the people of North Dakota.”
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, questioned the rush to bring such a matter before lawmakers during the session when other issues such as taxation are vetted for the entire interim in committee.
“We have a bill that came before us with no such process … (but) a short introduction in a short legislative session in a short afternoon vote,” Mathern said.
Sitte said she was amazed by the hostility toward the bills. She said there’s been “more scaremongering on this issue” than any other during the entire session so far.
After Sitte’s statement, SCR4009 passed 26-21.
The last of the bills to pass was SB2303. Sitte said the wording in SB2303 relating to the definition of a human being is already in the state’s Abortion Control Act.
“We are taking that exact language … and we are putting it in criminal code,” Sitte said.
Mathern offered an amendment to SB2303 that would expand Medicaid access to pregnant mothers, citing a need to provide assistance to young mothers. The amendment passed 30-19 after brief debate.
After an amendment by Triplett to provide for cost of litigation failed for a second time, SB2303 came up for a final vote. The bill passed 25-22.
The final bill, SB2302, was brought up for debate. Mathern offered the same amendment that he had attached to the previous bill, drawing a rebuke from
Sen. Ralph Kilzer, R-Bismarck. Kilzer said the amendments being offered have nothing to do with the issues outlined in the bill.
“It is a diversionary tactic meant to kill the bill by fiscal note,” Kilzer said.
Mathern’s amendment failed. Triplett for a third time then offered an unsuccessful amendment for providing litigation costs.
After a brief debate, SB2302 failed by a 29-18 vote.