BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate voted overwhelmingly to outlaw a second-trimester abortion procedure Friday, March 29.
The bipartisan vote in favor of House Bill 1546 came after complaints that its specific terminology would turn state law into a "graphic novel." The bill would impose Class C felony charges on people who perform a "human dismemberment abortion," known as a dilation and evacuation procedure, with exceptions for medical emergencies.
Lawmakers rejected a floor amendment from Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, that would have added exemptions for instances when a physician recommends the procedure or the pregnancy resulted from rape. It would have also stripped out some of the bill's descriptive language about the procedure.
Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, said it was a "historical necessity" to spell out the abortion method in state law, likening it to people's negative reactions to images of the Ku Klux Klan or the Holocaust.
"Through history, sometimes mankind and humanity, we need to see the gruesomeness of something before we stop and go, 'Whoa, that should not occur,'" she said.
Democratic Sen. Kathy Hogan, of Fargo, urged her colleagues to reject the bill and keep the government out of "complex" medical decisions. She said a high school friend died from complications of a "backstreet abortion" before the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Hogan said her friend died because "she had no legal options and no support."
But the Senate ultimately approved the bill in a 39-7 vote Friday afternoon. The House will need to agree to tweaks in the ban's effective date before it's sent to Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.
Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group, previously said such method bans effectively prevent abortion at about 15 weeks of pregnancy because it's the only procedure available for most abortions after that time. Roughly 3 percent 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 data.
The department said 2015 marked the last year on record in which a dilation and evacuation procedure was performed in the state.
The bill wouldn't go into effect right away, however, because it relies on favorable federal court action. Late last year, the state of Alabama asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review its method ban after a lower court found that the law "constitutes an undue burden on abortion access."
Nash said 10 states have such bans on the books, but eight are being challenged in court and are not in effect.
Burgum has already signed legislation requiring physicians to inform women that it may be possible to reverse a drug-induced abortion.