BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have made performing an abortion legally akin to murdering an unborn child.

Under House Bill 1313, someone found to have performed an abortion, other than to save the life of the mother, would have been guilty of a Class AA felony, punishable by up to life in prison without parole. The bill did not take aim at women seeking abortions.

The lower chamber on Wednesday, Feb. 17, voted 70-22 to scrap the bill, which generated controversy on both sides of the aisle. The supporters of the bill count themselves among the most socially conservative members of the Legislature.

The North Dakota House of Representatives voted 70-22 against House Bill 1313 on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Screenshot via North Dakota Legislature
The North Dakota House of Representatives voted 70-22 against House Bill 1313 on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Screenshot via North Dakota Legislature

If the bill became law, it would likely have put North Dakota at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects a woman's right to have an abortion.

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Minot Republican Rep. Jeff Hoverson, the bill's primary sponsor, said it would be great if his legislation had prompted an overturning of the decision, but more than that, he hoped the state would just ignore the high court's ruling.

"The problem is we've been waiting and allowing for a 1973 decision, which is based on many lies, to hold our states hostage for 48 years," Hoverson said.

A fellow Minot Republican, Rep. Matthew Ruby, said he is anti-abortion, but he prefers a lighter touch that involves chipping away at access to the medical procedure and waiting for the Roe decision to be struck down.

If Hoverson's bill passed, Ruby said the state would have wasted state resources defending the law in likely futile court battles. North Dakota ended up paying $245,000 in a settlement with the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo and about $325,000 in other legal expenses following a failed attempt to uphold a 2013 law that banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

"Many of us in this chamber consider ourselves pro-life, myself included, but throwing any idea at the wall and hoping it sticks isn't an efficient way and could open up our section of code to be gutted," Ruby said.

The Legislature passed a law in 2007 that would make most abortion procedures illegal if the Roe v. Wade decision is overturned at the federal level.