Not to be outdone by Arkansas lawmakers — who recently overrode their governor to impose a 12-week abortion ban, the strictest in the country — abortion opponents in North Dakota want to go even further.
So far this year, anti-choice lawmakers in Arkansas and North Dakota have practically tripped over each other to see which state can impose more abortion restrictions. Arkansas initially pulled into the lead by imposing two stringent restrictions, a 20-week abortion ban and, later, a stricter 12-week ban. But North Dakota may be ready to raise the stakes once again. Republican lawmakers are advancing a “fetal heartbeat” measure to outlaw the procedure after just six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even realize they’re pregnant, and they expect to have enough support to push it though:
House Bill 1456 would make it a felony for a doctor to perform a nonemergency abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as five or six weeks. House Bill 1305 would prohibit abortions sought because a fetus has been or could be diagnosed with any genetically inherited defect, disease or disorder.
The Republican-led state Senate will vote today on the measures, said state Representative Bette Grande of Fargo, who co-sponsored the bills in the Republican-controlled House, where both have passed. Grande said she expects the Senate to approve both and the governor, also a party member, to sign them.
“The heartbeat is society’s marker for life,” Grande, a Republican, said by telephone from Fargo.
So-called “fetal heartbeat” bans are blatantly unconstitutional. Even though Roe v. Wadeguarantees the right to legal abortion services until the point of viability, typically around 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy, heartbeat bans narrow that window by as much as 17 weeks. North Dakota’s heartbeat measure will also have the unintended consequence of mandating transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, since there’s no other way to detect a fetal heartbeat at such an early stage of pregnancy.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only egregious affront to reproductive rights that women in North Dakota have to worry about. State lawmakers are also considering an even more radical “personhood” measure that would outlaw abortion altogether, as well as some forms of contraception. And, despite the fact that there’s just one abortion clinic left in the state, anti-choice Republicans are attempting to advance legislation that would force it to close its doors.
Testifying against the mounting abortion restrictions currently moving through the legislature, one Fargo-area doctor warned that North Dakota’s attacks on choice will ultimately force women in the state to resort to dangerous, “backroom” abortion procedures. Unfortunately, even while Roe technically still stands, North Dakota lawmakers could essentially roll back the clock to a time before women had the right to safely determine their own reproductive decisions.