North Dakota joined the ranks of nearly a dozen states seeking to outlaw a second trimester abortion method with Gov. Doug Burgum's backing Wednesday.
The Republican governor signed legislation imposing Class C felony charges on people who perform a "human dismemberment abortion" unless there's a medical emergency. But it only becomes effective with federal court action or a change in the U.S. Constitution giving states the ability to prohibit abortion.
Similar bans have targeted what's known medically as a dilation and evacuation procedure, which is the most common abortion method used in the second trimester of a pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group. But the North Dakota Department of Health has said 2015 marked the last year on record in which the procedure was performed here.
Ten other states have such bans on the books, but eight of them are on hold due to litigation, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute.
The state of Alabama asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review its method ban late last year. A lower court found that the law "constitutes an undue burden on abortion access and is unconstitutional."
The passage of House Bill 1546 came about six years after then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed what was considered the country’s strictest abortion ban, prohibiting it as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The ban was ultimately defeated in court.
Medora Nagle, executive director of North Dakota Right to Life, called the legislation Burgum signed a "pro-life victory" and was hopeful similar bans would be upheld in the courts.
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Nagle said it had been hard to know where Burgum stood on abortion. During the 2016 campaign, the former Microsoft executive said he was pro-life and would have signed anti-abortion bills approved by Dalrymple, but he swerved when pressed on whether he supported a woman's right to have an abortion and said the state should work "comprehensively" to reduce unintended pregnancies.
"He was very good at not really speaking to either side of the argument of abortion," Nagle said. "I think he knows that the constituents of North Dakota want this bill."
Burgum's office did not issue a statement on his bill signature requested by Forum News Service.
Tammi Kromenaker, the director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, the state's sole abortion clinic, didn't return a message seeking comment Wednesday. She previously said the bill is "yet another example of North Dakota politicians telling doctors how to practice medicine and trying to take away doctors’ ability to provide care in the manner that they believe is safest and most effective."
The bill sailed through the Republican-controlled Legislature, with proponents arguing that lawmakers shouldn't allow the "barbaric" procedure. But it faced complaints from lawmakers that its terminology was too explicit and would turn state law into a "graphic novel."
Nash previously said such legislation effectively bans abortions at about 15 weeks of pregnancy. Roughly 3% of the 1,155 abortions performed in North Dakota in 2017 took place at 15 weeks of pregnancy or more, according to the latest state Department of Health report.
Last month, Burgum signed a bill requiring physicians to inform women that it may be possible to reverse a drug-induced abortion, which opponents said wasn't backed by medical evidence. A lawmaker who supported the legislation called it a "women's right-to-know bill."