North Dakota has funds to fight over abortion

JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press Published:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- As oil-rich North Dakota moves toward outlawing most abortions, it's in a better position than most states for what could be a long and costly court battle over its restrictions.

Lawmakers on Friday sent the Republican governor two anti-abortion bills, one banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and another prohibiting women from having the procedure because a fetus has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. They would be the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S

Abortion-rights activists have promised a legal battle over the measures if they become law. But supporters of the bills say their goal is to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks

Unlike other states, North Dakota isn't looking at budget cuts. The state actually has a budget surplus nearing $2 billion, thanks to new-found oil wealth. Record oil production has made North Dakota the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas.

But that oil wealth has come at a price: increased crime, shortages of housing, greater costs for road repairs and other infrastructure improvements. Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider, an attorney from Grand Forks, said the Legislature should focus on those needs instead of "expensive and potentially protracted abortion litigation."

"There hasn't been near enough attention given to the costs as we've debated these issues. We need to be honest with taxpayer funds and that is: We will be spending money on attorneys," Schneider said.

But Rep. Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo who introduced the measures, said the budget surplus wasn't part of the equation for her.

"I don't look at it from the financial side of things," Grande told The Associated Press on Friday. "I look at it from the life side of things."

Grande told lawmakers earlier in the week that fears about a legal challenge shouldn't prevent them from strengthening North Dakota's already strict abortion laws.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple hasn't said anything to indicate he would veto the measures, and the bills have enough support in each chamber for the Republican-controlled Legislature to override him. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the bills Friday, and the House passed them last month. The votes were largely on party lines, with Republicans supporting the measures and Democrats opposing them.

The state's only abortion clinic is in Fargo, and abortion-rights advocates say the measures are meant to shut it down. They urged Dalrymple to veto the bills.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the measures "extreme" and noted that many women don't realize they are pregnant until after six weeks.

"In America, no woman, no matter where she lives, should be denied the ability to make this deeply personal decision," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in a statement.

Outside of Fargo, the nearest abortion clinics are four hours to the south in Sioux Falls, S.D., and four hours to the southeast in Minneapolis.

North Dakota is one of several states with Republican-controlled Legislatures and GOP governors that is looking at abortion restrictions. Arkansas passed a 12-week ban earlier this month that prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. That ban is scheduled to take effect 90 days after the Arkansas Legislature adjourns.

A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier in a pregnancy using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women seeking abortions to have the more invasive imaging technique.

North Dakota's measure doesn't specify how a fetal heartbeat would be detected. Doctors performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected could face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Women having an abortion would not face charges.

The genetic abnormalities bill also bans abortion based on gender selection. Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma already have such laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions across the U.S. North Dakota would be the first state to ban abortions based on a genetic defect, according to the institute.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, a Republican from Bismarck, said the bill is meant to ban the destruction of life based on "an arbitrary society standard of being good enough." Some test results pointing to abnormalities are incorrect, she said, and doctors can perform surgeries even before a baby is born to correct some genetic conditions.

___

Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/macphersonja.