State lawmakers consider pro-life bills

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 5:37 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Abortion is still legal in North Dakota, at least for now. The state Supreme Court’s decision this week to uphold an injunction on the state’s abortion laws could have repercussions in the Legislature.

On Thursday, North Dakota’s Supreme Court said women have a “fundamental right” to abortions that preserves their life and health. And that stipulation is interesting because until now, the only exemption was for the life of the mother. So, now the question is, what does allowing abortions for the ‘health’ of the mother mean?

In the Supreme Court’s decision, Chief Justice Jon Jensen wrote, “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.”

“So, what does that mean? What does ‘health’ mean? They want a narrow scope, but they don’t say what scope. That could be morning illness, that could be [an] ectopic pregnancy,” said Senator Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg.

Those opposed to restricting abortions say, adding the word ‘health’ greatly expands who should have access to abortion.

“What does it say about a woman whose mental health is being affected by a pregnancy they don’t want to bring to term? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered, I think our partners in healthcare, in the hospital industry, women’s groups, are going to have to have their voices heard,” said Representative Zac Ista, D-Grand Forks.

Senator Myrdal believes that would be a grave mistake.

“If we open that up into mental health, then where does the right of the unborn go? Down the drain, literally down the drain, and that’s a scary notion, so I will oppose that with my entire being,” said Senator Myrdal.

Now, lawmakers have SB 2150 in front of them, which the Pro-Life caucus believes simply clarifies existing laws.

“It cleans up the language a little bit, clarifies it so that doctors, medical associations [and] hospitals understand what has been on the books in North Dakota for almost 20 years. This is not new legislation. There are no substantive policy changes,” said Senator Myrdal.

But abortion advocates say this would make significant changes, since, with the state Supreme Court’s injunction, the state’s trigger law hasn’t gone into effect.

“We do have to be careful not to, sort of, put the cart in front of the horse as we talk about what we are doing with our code. This is not just a simple cleanup bill. This is a very alive issue, one that’s being litigated in the courts right now, and the one that’s before as a legislature,” said Rep. Ista.

The House of Representatives could take up SB 2150 as soon as next week.

There are a few other bills presented by the Pro-Life caucus that are supported by pro-choice lawmakers, like a diaper sales tax exemption or an adoption tax credit.