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Anti-abortion group changes survey answers of N.D. legislators

Walsh County Pro Life is under fire for surveying four Republican candidates for North Dakota Legislature and then changing some of the answers it received before mailing the results to voters.

Sen. Curtis Olafson

Walsh County Pro Life is under fire for surveying four Republican candidates for North Dakota Legislature and then changing some of the answers it received before mailing the results to voters.

The survey, sent out in April, had six questions dealing with abortion, assisted suicide and government funding of abortions.

Sens. Gerry Uglem from District 19 and Curtis Olafson from District 10 said their positions were misrepresented by the group.

Uglem said four of his answers were changed from "yes" to "no," as were three answers provided by Olafson.

Tom Campbell, Uglem's rival in the primary, and Sen. Joe Miller, Olafson's rival, also received the survey but their answers were not changed.


Walsh County Pro Life President James Kerian said the changes were necessary because the candidates' answers "directly contradicted" their recent record on abortion-related issues that came up in the Legislature.

"I have voted for every reasonable piece of pro-life legislation that has come before me and will continue to do so in the future," Olafson said. "I feel that the way the survey was reported certainly misrepresents my position on pro-life issues."

Survey results were sent to members of North Dakota Right to Life in Cavalier, Grand Forks, Pembina and Walsh counties.

Practical questions

Kerian said the changes were "clearly stated" on the letter with asterisks noting the answers were "based on the candidate's voting record rather than his response."

"When a candidate sends a survey response that directly contradicts his voting record, it is common for interest groups to educate their members on the candidate's voting record rather than just accept a survey response at face value," he said.

Uglem and Olafson's responses were changed for a question asking if they would vote for legislation to criminalize performing abortions except in the case of rape or if necessary to save the life of the mother.

But both disputed that change, saying they voted on the side of anti-abortion legislation several times during their years in the Legislature.


In 2007, both voted for House Bill 1466, legislation that would prohibit the performance of abortions in the state except in the case of rape or if necessary to save the life of the mother.

The "trigger bill" passed, but will not become effective until the legislative counsel and attorney general certify the bill likely would be upheld as constitutional, which would require a reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that the right to privacy extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Kerian said it "has practically no effect," which is why no abortion rights group has challenged the legislation in court.

Legal challenges

Uglem's response was changed for another question asking if he would vote for legislation to prohibit all use of government funding for abortion, including abortion-inducing drugs.

He was one of just five senators to vote against 2011's House Bill 1297, legislation passed by both chambers that he said was designed to make abortions "inconvenient and more expensive" in the state while also addressing government funding.

"I did not think it would stand challenges, so I voted against it," he said. "Matter of fact, I do believe portions of it are in the court being challenged."

But Kerian said the legislation was supported by the majority of Republicans and Democrats, as well as several statewide and national anti-abortion groups in the state.


Following advice

Both Uglem and Olafson also saw their responses changed for the survey's last question, which asked if they would "compel a recorded roll-call vote" on all anti-abortion legislation.

Kerian said that change stemmed from their actions last year with House Bill 1450, which would have added abortion language to the section of the state's criminal code addressing assault and homicide.

The bill cleared the House, but when it came up in the Senate, Olafson moved to table the bill, meaning it could not be voted on unless brought back by two-thirds of senators for consideration.

Miller tried to revive the bill, getting 26 senators to side with him but not the 32 he needed.

Uglem voted against Miller's move for a vote, but said his reason was simple -- he was following the advice of Paul Benjamin Linton, a legal expert formerly with Americans United for Life who said the bill was not constitutional and could damage the anti-abortion movement.

Linton wrote a letter to North Dakota senators before the vote, advising them that there was "no possibility whatsoever, none at all," that the Supreme Court would uphold the law.

Kerian disputed the claim that the bill granted "personhood" to fetuses, saying such bills do not contain exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother like HB 1450 had.


But the bill applied the term "human being" at every stage of development, Uglem said. "In my mind, a personhood bill is anything that gives personhood to a fertilized egg and that's what that bill did."

Olafson said he had similar motives for his actions and said personhood bills have, so far, failed to pass in every state that has tried.

Some impact

Uglem said he does not think Walsh County Pro Life's survey will be a "big issue" as voters head to the polling booths June 12. But he said "it's possible it could make the difference" in his contest with Campbell for his party's nomination.

Olafson said "there's no question" that abortion, and anti-abortion legislation and issues that could come up in the Senate in the future, will be an issue in his primary race with Sen. Miller, who now represents the same constituents because of last fall's redistricting.

"But the people who know me know that I am pro-life, so I think that knowledge is very much out there," he said. "What I have opposed is legislation that is strongly advised by the best and most reliable pro-life constitutional scholars in the country that could actually damage the pro-life effort."

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to rjohnson@gfherald.com .


Sen. Gerry Uglem

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