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North Dakota House passes bill prohibiting abortion method

Rep. Mary Schneider (D-Fargo) reads her prepared statement Thursday, Jan. 31, during a House floor debate on HB 1546, a bill dealing with a prohibition on human dismemberment abortion. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — North Dakota House lawmakers agreed to outlaw an abortion procedure that’s commonly performed in the second trimester of pregnancy Thursday, Jan. 31, but included a contingent effective date that recognizes its uncertain legal future.

House Bill 1546 imposes Class C felony charges on people who perform what's known as a dilation and evacuation procedure, which the legislation refers to as a “human dismemberment abortion,” except in the case of a medical emergency. It passed the Republican-controlled House in a 78-13 vote, sending the bill to the Senate.

The vote came nearly six years after then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law what was considered the country’s strictest abortion ban, prohibiting it as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The ban was ultimately defeated in court, with a federal judge deeming it unconstitutional.

The legislation that passed the House Thursday is similar to an Arkansas ban that a federal judge halted last year. That case is now before an appeals court.

The North Dakota bill, which counts Dickinson Republican Rep. Luke Simons as its primary sponsor, wouldn’t become effective until lawmakers approve the attorney general’s recommendation that it’s “reasonably probable” it would be upheld as constitutional. Simons said that language is meant to allow lawmakers to wait and see what happens with the Arkansas case.

The bill's supporters have described the abortion method they seek to outlaw as "barbaric" and "gruesome," reflecting graphic terms used in the bill. But Tammi Kromenaker, the director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s sole abortion clinic, previously said the bill would criminalize doctors for performing a safe and common procedure.

On Thursday, Kromenaker expressed frustration that lawmakers passed an ideologically charged bill laced with "inflammatory" language. She said she couldn't comment on any potential litigation until the bill moves through the legislative process.

Two states have bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group. Ohio’s ban is scheduled to take effect in March.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor doesn't typically comment on bills until they reach his desk. He said comments he made during the 2016 campaign still reflect his stance on abortion.

During the contentious Republican primary race with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Burgum said he was pro-life and would have signed the anti-abortion bills Dalrymple approved. But pressed on whether he supported a woman's right to have an abortion, he swerved and said "labels are divisive."

“My position is that every abortion is a tragedy. And as a state, everyone can agree that we should have fewer abortions. ... The way you have fewer abortions is you have fewer unintended pregnancies, and the way you have fewer unintended pregnancies is working comprehensively,” including by streamlining adoption services, Burgum said in 2016.

On Monday, the House passed a bill requiring physicians to inform women that they could reverse drug-induced abortions, a claim opponents have maintained isn't supported by science.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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