Letter: How to keep abortion legal

Smith writes, "Remember, nearly all abortions (93%) are within the first trimester. Don’t get greedy and try to protect the 6% of abortions in the second trimester, or the 1% in the third trimester."

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Now that the issue of abortion is back in the hands of states to decide, people are going to have to argue for their side without pointing to the Supreme Court as if the issue was settled. North Dakota is a very conservative state so right now the pro-life side has the advantage. While the Legislature has already passed restrictive laws, the people of North Dakota are not as pro-life as commentators might have you believe.

In 2014, abortion was on the ballot as Measure 1; it attempted to define life as beginning at conception. North Dakotans overwhelmingly rejected this idea at a 2-to-1 margin. The issue is not black and white. There is a lot of room for nuance.

Late-term third trimester abortions (24+ weeks) are mostly opposed. Third trimester fetuses are viable and can live apart from the mother, albeit with technological help. A baby one minute after birth should not be treated differently from a baby one minute before birth. Polls show that even people who call themselves pro-choice support bans this late in the pregnancy. Yet politicians are so hell-bent on defending abortion that they went far beyond what Roe v Wade ever protected; states like Colorado allow abortions up until birth. Don’t be like Colorado.

More on Roe v. Wade
Smith writes, "If the people of North Dakota want abortion to remain legally accessible, we must put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to make it so."

Second trimester abortions (12-24 weeks) are where most of the controversy is. These fetuses are generally not viable, but they still respond to external stimuli, so they can probably feel pain. The abortion procedure at this stage involves crushing the skull and tearing the fetus apart piece by piece. In the eyes of many, this is barbaric. If you look at the signs of anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic, this is usually what their graphic pictures show. The problem is that Roe v Wade protected second trimester abortions. Pro-life people hate that, so Roe had to go.

First trimester abortions (0-12 weeks) are where all the nuance is. These fetuses are less than the size of your thumb, have zero brain function, and do not respond to stimuli of any kind. The argument that these fetuses have their own individual rights, separate from the mother, is very weak.


Polls consistently show that even people who call themselves pro-life are open to first trimester abortions. The argument “life begins at conception” is an extremist position and does not reflect most of this country. People who make exceptions for rape or incest clearly do not view abortion as murder. If they did, the circumstances of conception would be irrelevant. This stance also conflicts with in vitro fertilization, but over 90% of the population believe IVF should be available. Nearly the entire country, including people who call themselves “pro-life,” do not honestly believe a single-cell fertilized egg is a separate person with its own distinct human rights.

Now that Roe v Wade is gone, abortion will probably be on the 2024 ballot, but it is important that the measure be written strategically. If we want abortion to be legalized by a ballot measure, the primary goal needs to be getting the measure passed with a 51% majority. To do this, the authors must not attempt to reinstate Roe and protect second trimester abortions. I propose a 12-week cutoff line, with maybe a 2-week grace period so no one is prosecuted because the exact date of conception is ambiguous. Add a clause protecting mothers from prosecution for suspicious miscarriages at any stage.

Remember, nearly all abortions (93%) are within the first trimester. Don’t get greedy and try to protect the 6% of abortions in the second trimester, or the 1% in the third trimester.

I believe the majority of North Dakotans support legalizing first trimester abortions, but not in the second trimester. If the proposed measure is written too broadly, it will fail, and abortion will remain criminalized. Taking the nuanced approach and separating first and second trimester abortions is the key to keeping abortion legal.

William Smith lives in Fargo.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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