Revisions to North Dakota abortion laws clear Legislature
The bill is to clear up language in the state's 2007 trigger ban and 2013 "heartbeat bill," according to Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg.
BISMARCK — Lawmakers in both chambers of the North Dakota Legislature have passed proposed revisions to North Dakota's abortion laws by veto-proof majorities. The legislation, if signed by Gov. Doug Burgum, is bound to become part of an ongoing lawsuit over the state's abortion ban.
Senate Bill 2150 by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, is on its way to the governor's desk after the Senate on Wednesday, April 19, concurred with House amendments and passed the bill in a 42-5 vote.
The state House of Representatives on Monday passed the bill 76-14 after amendments in the wake of a recent state Supreme Court ruling in the lawsuit, which continues to play out.
The overwhelming support for the bill means the Legislature would likely have the two-thirds majority vote needed to overturn a veto if Burgum does not sign the bill.
Myrdal has said the bill is to clear up language in the state's 2007 trigger ban and 2013 "heartbeat bill" in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to an abortion last year.
The court's Dobbs decision triggered North Dakota's ban, which prohibits virtually all abortions but is temporarily blocked in state district court amid a lawsuit from the state's sole abortion provider.
The "heartbeat bill" bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected — as early as six weeks, when some women don't yet know they're pregnant — “except when a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance” with the law. Attorney General Drew Wrigley is appealing a federal block on the law in the wake of the Dobbs decision.
Under the abortion ban, doctors could be charged with a Class C felony for performing an abortion during medical emergencies and in cases of rape or incest, but they could argue in court that the affirmative defenses for rape, incest and protection of the life of a mother outlined in the law protect them from criminal liability.
The bill would change the ban's affirmative defenses into exceptions, which supporters say would take the legal burden off medical providers.
Myrdal's bill also would allow for treatment of ectopic pregnancies, a dangerous, nonviable scenario in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, and molar pregnancies, a nonviable, rare complication involving a tumor forming in the uterus.
The bill also would allow for abortions in cases of rape and incest, but only before six weeks gestation.
Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature have opposed the six weeks provision as insufficient for women and young girls who might not know they are pregnant after being raped.
Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, called the bill "dangerous" and "such an intrusion into personal and private decisions that should be made."
"I am not in favor of abortion as a birth control means, nothing like that, but these protections that exist are there for a reason, and we need to watch that we don't get so carried away with moving in a direction that will prevent everything from being done that we really endanger some other people in this picture," Lee told the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said the recent court ruling "appeared to me to balance the rights of the fetus with the health of the mother, and they say both were equal." She said the bill "does not comply with" the ruling.
The Red River Women's Clinic is challenging the trigger law, which would ban virtually all abortions but for cases of rape or incest and to protect the life of the mother. The clinic was North Dakota's sole abortion provider before moving last summer to neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, where abortion is legal.
The lawsuit continues in state district court after the state Supreme Court's March ruling upholding a judge's temporary block of the trigger law.
Chief Justice Jon Jensen wrote in the court's majority opinion that "The North Dakota Constitution guarantees North Dakota citizens the right to enjoy and defend life and the right to pursue and obtain safety, which necessarily includes a pregnant woman has a fundamental right to obtain an abortion to preserve her life or her health."
The bill also creates a new chapter in state law for its provisions and would redefine a "medical emergency" as a "serious health risk."
Molar pregnancy treatment and "serious health risk" were amendments in response to the ruling, said Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield.