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Subverting reproductive rights: North Dakota's dubious honor

Editorial

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple should not sign any of the legislature's half-dozen bills that seek to subvert a well-established constitutional right to abortion.

March 19, 2013
  • Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo) testifies before the House Human Services Committee in Bismarck, N.D. on Jan. 31. The North Dakota Senate approved two anti-abortion bills on March 15.
Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo) testifies before the House Human Services… (James MacPherson / Associated…)

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple should not sign any of the legislature's half-dozen bills that seek to subvert a well-established constitutional right to abortion.

Late last week, the North Dakota legislature passed a bill that would ban a woman from having an abortion as soon as the heartbeat of the fetus is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. If Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs it into law, North Dakota will have the ignominious distinction of being the most restrictive state in the country on abortion.

A measure to ban abortions so early — at a point when many women don't yet know they're pregnant — is not only repressive and extreme but also likely to be struck down in the courts as a violation of the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe vs. Wade that women have a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb. (That's about 24 weeks.)

The heartbeat bill is just one of half a dozen pieces of legislation restricting access to abortion that are passed and headed to Dalrymple's desk or may soon be. The legislature also passed a bill banning abortions for gender selection or because of a genetic abnormality. Additionally, the legislature is considering a total ban on abortion at 20 weeks, two measures that define "personhood" as starting at conception, and one that would require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. As Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group, notes, "They're throwing everything against the wall and trying to find something that sticks."

Unfortunately, North Dakota is just one of a passel of states that continue to whittle away at abortion rights with restrictions, waiting periods, mandatory counseling and bans on insurance coverage. Arkansas just banned abortions of fetuses 12 weeks or older. Texas may put restrictions on medications that induce abortion. Alabama is considering a bill that would require clinics to employ only doctors with local hospital privileges and to ask any girl under 16 the name and age of the person who impregnated her. She would not be required to answer.

The war on choice is gaining momentum. Only two weeks ago Arkansas attained the dubious honor of passing the nation's most restrictive abortion law, and already North Dakota is preparing to supersede it. Dalrymple should not sign any of these unreasonable measures, all of which would make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions. Four decades after Roe vs. Wade, no state should still be seeking to subvert a well-established constitutional right.

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