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OUR OPINION: The power of unintended consequences

Here’s a prediction: If North Dakota voters reject Measure 1 in November, it’ll be in large part because of the issue presented on this page.

In other words, it’ll be because enough voters fret that the measure could interfere with end-of-life decisions such as living wills and Do Not Resuscitate orders.

And that, in turn, suggests that the people who drafted the bill failed to be like chess players and think two or three moves ahead. For if they had done so, they would have included language in their amendment that explicitly put those end-of-life concerns to rest.

Such language — “Nothing in this amendment shall be construed as to interfere” with individuals’ end-of-life decisions, or legal wording to that effect — would have deprived Measure 1 critics of a strong and possibly decisive argument. And it would have done so without weakening the amendment’s core purpose, which is to protect North Dakota’s pro-life laws from challengers who invoke the North Dakota Constitution.

Clearly, the amendment’s supporters recognize this strategic gap in their lines and are struggling mightily to fill it. As a recent Forum News Service story confirmed, “supporters of a North Dakota ballot measure aimed at banning abortion are preparing to distribute a ‘white paper’ to counter what they claim are misleading statements by opponents about the measure’s potential impact on end-of-life health care decisions.”

And Measure 1 is not alone. Measure 3 is another proposed amendment whose fate may turn on the threat of unintended consequences.

The measure would replace the State Board of Higher Education with a three-person commission. But the new commission will be subservient to the Legislature. And if North Dakotans come to believe that this subservience would threaten the 11 campuses’ accreditation — as the accrediting agency itself has warned — then the odds of the amendment’s passing will go way, way down.

In Measure 3’s case, reformers were warned about the accreditation issue but refused to incorporate it. That was a mistake. And it’s one more reminder for lawmakers to consider critics’ objections, weigh them with care and address the strongest of them in the drafting of the law.