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North Dakota bill would charge abortion provider with murder

North Dakota bill would charge abortion provider with murder

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North Dakota state Capitol

The North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck is offset by flowers in full bloom in June 2018.

Performing an abortion in North Dakota would amount to murder and come with a life prison sentence under a bill proposed by a far-right Republican lawmaker who is a Lutheran pastor.

Rep. Jeff Hoverson's bill, which is co-sponsored by some of the Legislature's other most anti-abortion members, also would make it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to help women get abortions, including by giving them rides to abortion clinics.

The bill doesn't have the support of Republican leaders, so it's unlikely to pass and would surely face a legal challenge even if it did. But it's the latest in a series of anti-abortion bills put up for consideration in a state that has some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws on its books.

“It’s a longshot, I know,” Hoverson said Wednesday about his bill. “But this is about babies crying and babies dying. It’s a humanitarian issue.”

“It's aimed at the provider, not the receiver,” he said.

Hoverson, of Minot, is among the most far-right legislators in the GOP-controlled Legislature. He introduced legislation this session to repeal mask mandates in the state. And as a freshman legislator two years ago, Hoverson protested a prayer by a Hindu cleric, saying he didn’t “want to be compelled to pray for a false god.”

North Dakota is one of 10 states that have so-called trigger laws that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization. Many think the court might eventually overturn Roe v. Wade because of its shift to the right following the appointment of three conservative justices by President Donald Trump.

Hoverson said anti-abortion advocates like himself are tired of waiting for the high court to act.

“I don’t trust the Supreme Court — they are holding us hostage,” Hoverson said. “I want North Dakota to take this matter into our own hands.”

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said North Dakota lawmakers have passed several restrictive anti-abortion measures over the past few years that show their opposition to a woman's right to the procedure.

“I’ve been proud of our pro-life stance,” Pollert said. “But I think this bill goes too far. I’m not in support of it.”

North Dakota passed some of the nation’s toughest abortion laws beginning in 2013, including one that would have banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen before a woman knows she is pregnant. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

That fetal heartbeat law never took effect because the state's lone abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, successfully challenged it in court. North Dakota spent $326,000 to unsuccessfully defend the law and paid the clinic $245,000 as part of a settlement.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit that supports abortion rights, helped the Red River Women’s Clinic fight the law and others. It said in a statement Wednesday that the new bill “goes further than most.”

“Criminalizing abortion under any circumstances is outrageous, draconian, and out of touch,” the statement said. “We will be monitoring this bill closely to ensure North Dakotans’ constitutional right to abortion remains in tact.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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