BISMARCK — In light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision not to block a Texas law that prohibits most abortions, North Dakota's legislative leaders believe similar legislation will be introduced in the Peace Garden State — but not for more than a year.
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Wednesday night, Sept. 1, to decline from blocking a recently instituted Texas law that allows citizens to sue clinics or anyone who abets an abortion performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected — about six weeks into a pregnancy, which is before the vast majority of abortion procedures occur. Unlike many other attempts to limit abortions, the law is not enforced by the state and does not come with criminal penalties, but rather plaintiffs are entitled to at least $10,000 if a civil court finds an illegal abortion occurred.
North Dakota House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, both Republicans, said they believe a similar bill will come forward when the Legislature convenes for its next regular session in January 2023.
The leaders agreed abortion legislation shouldn't be brought up during an anticipated November special session in which lawmakers aim to approve a plan to redraw boundaries for legislative districts and allocate federal coronavirus relief funds. Pollert said the Legislature's time will be limited during the special session, and any abortion bills would need to be "thoroughly vetted" during a regular session. Wardner agreed, noting that a Texas-style abortion law would not get a fair debate if introduced during a time-compressed special session.
Wardner and Pollert declined to say whether they favored the Texas law, adding that they haven't closely read the bill or seen what form it would take in North Dakota.
Socially conservative state lawmakers have a recent history of passing strict anti-abortion laws, many of which have been shot down by courts after costly legal battles.
The Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, the state's only abortion provider, successfully sued North Dakota in 2013 after lawmakers passed the nation's first bill banning abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The Supreme Court declined to take the case, effectively upholding lower courts' decisions to block the law from going into effect.
Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker told Forum News Service the Texas law and Wednesday's decision are "very scary," noting that "these are dark, dark days for abortion access." Kromenaker said she hopes the movement toward abortion restrictions provides Americans with a wake-up call to realize elections matter in deciding whether the medical procedure stays legal.
Kromenaker doesn't have a firm answer on how the clinic would proceed if faced with a law similar to the one passed in Texas, but she said the provider would consult with attorneys about how the restrictions would affect operations.
"What I can tell you is we will do everything within our power to continue to provide quality abortion care, as we have for the past 23 years, as long as patients need our services," Kromenaker said.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said he sees "strong potential" for his Republican colleagues to pursue legislation that mirrors the bill adopted in Texas because many "seem to be more concerned with national issues than things affecting North Dakota." Boschee noted that the Texas law doesn't include exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or incest, and legislators shouldn't be making "black and white laws for a gray world."
"There will be women in Texas who suffer because of this, and I hope that doesn't happen in North Dakota," Boschee said.
The Supreme Court's decision on the Texas law is considered provisional, and challenges to the legislation are still pending in lower federal courts, according to the New York Times. However, the high court's judgment, which dissenting justices called a violation of legal precedent Roe v. Wade, means the law remains in effect. The court is also expected to rule later this year on blocked Mississippi legislation that would ban abortion after 15 weeks.
Kromenaker said abortion providers will be anxiously waiting to see how the top court rules on challenges to Roe v. Wade, but added "we got a really big hint" on Wednesday.