North Dakota Senate passes bill revising abortion laws
The bill now goes to the House
BISMARCK — Proposed revisions to North Dakota's abortion laws cleared the state Senate on Tuesday.
Lawmakers in a 43-4 vote passed Senate Bill 2150, brought by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives.
Myrdal has said the bill is to clear up language between the state's 2007 trigger ban and 2013 "heartbeat bill" in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to an abortion last year.
The former bans virtually all abortions in North Dakota, but is temporarily blocked in state district court. The latter bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected -- as early as six weeks, when some women don't yet know they're pregnant -- “except when a medical emergency exists that prevents compliance” with the law. Attorney General Drew Wrigley is appealing a federal block on the law.
The Red River Women's Clinic, North Dakota's sole abortion provider, moved from Fargo to Moorhead, Minnesota, in the wake of the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision last June that triggered North Dakota's 2007 law to take effect.
The clinic is challenging the trigger law, which would ban virtually all abortions but for cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother. The state Supreme Court will rule soon on a judge's temporary block of the trigger ban.
Under the ban, doctors could be charged with a Class C felony for performing an abortion during medical emergencies and in cases of rape or incest, but they could argue in court that the affirmative defenses for rape, incest and protection of the life of a mother outlined in the law protect them from criminal liability.
The bill would change the ban's affirmative defenses into exceptions, which supporters say would take the legal burden off medical providers.
The bill would allow for abortions for rape and incest, but only before six weeks gestation. Myrdal said "this was already law, no changes." It also would allow for treatment of ectopic pregnancies, a dangerous, nonviable scenario in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus.
Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, a former social services director, said she worked with "many families where incest has been a problem," including three cases of children younger than 12 who became pregnant due to incest. None reported the incest until they were found to be pregnant and after six weeks gestation, Hogan said.
"These girls faced many new traumas in addition to the incest," Hogan told the Senate. "Carrying a pregnancy to term for ... children is a life-altering trauma."
One girl attempted suicide three times within six weeks after learning of her pregnancy, according to Hogan.
She said the bill is better than the blocked trigger law, "But it's still devastating to the victims of rape and incest."
Physicians last month told the Senate Judiciary Committee of devastating pregnancy complications, and requested amendments they'd like to see for broader exceptions.
The Senate panel didn't make all the amendments the doctors had requested, but notably removed language that concerned doctors in the definition of a medical emergency.
Other bills introduced in the wake of Roe v. Wade's reversal are progressing through the Legislature.
The House last month in an 89-1 vote passed House Bill 1171 introduced by Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, which would prohibit and criminalize "forced or coerced" abortions.
The House also passed in an 82-9 vote House Bill 1173 introduced by Rep. Brandon Prichard, R-Bismarck, which would designate Jan. 22 as "Right-To-Life Day" in North Dakota. Both bills go to the Senate.