The state-legislature competition to enact abortion laws that defy already-in-place Supreme Court rulings is on, apparently. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Tuesday one-upped Arkansas and signed his state's extremely restrictive abortion measures into law — one of them would outlaw abortion just six weeks into pregnancy, and, well, that's got abortion-rights advocates headed back to appeals court... again.
Dalrymple, a Republican, signed three bills that make North Dakota the state with the strictest abortion laws in the country — even though there was a new one of those just earlier this month. One of the bills bans abortion procedures if a fetal heartbeat is "detectable," which pro-life advocates insist can happen as early as six weeks. Another bill makes it illegal to perform abortions based on genetic defects or gender selection. A third requires doctors to obtain "admitting privileges" at local hospitals. But as John Eligon at The New York Times reports, abortion-rights advocates immediately centered on the six-week heartbeat measure, with the head of the state's only abortion provider pushing back on legal precedent: "But this is specifically, 'Let's ban abortion. Let's do it. Let's challenge Roe v. Wade. Let's end abortion in North Dakota.'"
The Associated Press has more details on the most controversial part of the restrictive package:
North Dakota's legislation 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.
Of course, decades worth of U.S. law as established by Roe v. Wade says women have a constitutionally protected right to abortion services until a medically accepted point of viability, usually considered to be about 22-24 weeks. So, yes, your math is correct: Even with rounding, or biased doctors, North Dakota's new law restricts the time a woman can be pregnant before having a legal abortion by at least 300 percent, and more like 400 percent. And, yes, Gov. Dalrymple knows it. "Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," Dalrymple said in his statement. The Court rarely ever takes another look at major decisions like Roe, especially one that has seen such little change to the possible legal arguments therein — even with all the talk of civil rights issues and a so-called "new culture war" on the steps of the Court with the gay marriage cases this week.
Democratic Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe knew his state's legislature was flying in the face of Roe when he was faced with signing his state's new abortion laws earlier this month. The Democrat Beebe refused to sign a package, but was overruled by the Republican controlled House and Senate. The law banned abortions after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat could be detected, after State Senator Jason Rapert went on a crusade that included comparing abortions to the Holocaust. And, apparently, World War II is now the favorite argument among the anti-abortion crowd in the laboratories of democracy: The North Dakota bills were sponsored by state Rep. Bette Grande before they were passed on to the North Dakota State Senate almost two weeks ago. As our Phillip Bump discovered, Grande has some unusual reasoning for wanting such strict abortions. It all comes back to Hitler, she was quoted as saying in a recent profile:
The issues hit close to her, she said, having relatives with children born with a genetic abnormality and seeing an increase in discrimination toward individuals with Down syndrome and other genetic issues.
“It takes you back to Hitler, and we know where that went,” she said. “He started going after those with abnormalities, and I think it’s an absurdity we would go back to that kind of thing.”
So, yes, North Dakotans can be proud they passed the first Hitler-inspired abortion bill today. And after record highs in 2011 and 2012, this year is off to a pretty restrictive start when it comes to abortions. Surely a new state legislature will step right up as the appeals process begins to knocks these right down. That there even have to be these kind of comparisons, week-by-week, well, that's not going to make any pro-choicers happy.