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Group seeks to put abortion laws to statewide vote

BISMARCK -- A group of North Dakota residents plans to circulate a petition to put the state's three new anti-abortion measures to a statewide vote.

BISMARCK -- A group of North Dakota residents plans to circulate a petition to put the state's three new anti-abortion measures to a statewide vote.

Gary Hangsleben, 67, of Grand Forks, sent Secretary of State Al Jaeger a request Tuesday afternoon for a petition for each abortion law.

Hangsleben said Tuesday that North Dakotans should have a say in the abortion laws, which are the most restrictive in the country.

The laws are likely to be challenged in court, but Hangsleben said he sees the referral process as another option.

If the petition drives are successful, the laws would be put to a statewide vote, most likely in June 2014.

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But first the language for the petitions must be finalized and signatures gathered. There will be a petition for each law being challenged.

The secretary of state's office has to send Hangsleben petition titles that include how the ballot questions would be worded, no sooner than April 9 and no later than April 11.

Then the petition drive will have to obtain 13,452 signatures for each law by July 24.

The three bills signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple on March 26 and targeted by the referral drive are:

• House Bill 1456, which prohibits an abortion once a heartbeat is detected.

• House Bill 1305, which prohibits an abortion based on gender or genetic abnormality.

• Senate Bill 2305, which requires a physician performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Hangsleben said the 25 people who signed on to a committee to push for the ballot measures -- most of them Grand Forks-area residents -- joined while attending last week's Stand Up for Women North Dakota rally in Grand Forks, which protested the three bills.

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There are 300 volunteers right now across the state ready to collect signatures, he said.

Jaeger said Tuesday that he wanted to start the process right away.

"We handle them as timely as possible," Jaeger said. "We know the time is short, so we process them as quickly as we can."

Hangsleben has a social work degree from the University of North Dakota and is now the director of the Children's Center in Grand Forks.

He said he has been involved in other initiated measures, including circulating petitions in 2011 to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname for UND.

"Nobody has input, and I don't have time to go testify in Bismarck," he said. "This way, putting the measure on the ballot, gathering signatures, it's a grassroots way to do it."

He said he joined the referral process after growing frustrated with the judicial system and Legislature.

"I've met with some legislators over the years, sometimes they would listen, other times they didn't," he said. "This way, we are responsible for our own measures."

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Hangsleben said the committee, which doesn't have a name yet, was having a planning meeting Tuesday in Grand Forks after getting a quicker than expected response from the secretary of state's office.

Roland Riemers, chairman of the North Dakota Libertarian Party, drafted the petitions with Hangsleben, saying the issue "should be up to the people."

Riemers says UND students want to get involved with the petition drive. "They have endless energy, and they're more tech savvy," he said.

Hangsleben said they haven't decided whether they will try to refer Senate Bill 2368, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks and define life at conception. That bill is awaiting action by the Legislature but will likely be approved.

Reporter Brandi Jewett contributed to this story.

Roland Riemers

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