North Dakota laws affirm life

BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple's signature on three pro-life bills "affirms our state's commitment to the protection of all human life," Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck said March 26.

Protecting life "from the moment of conception to natural death is the primary purpose of government," the bishop said in a statement. "All persons, including our elected officials, are obligated to unceasingly to seek protection of this basic human right."

The measures Dalrymple signed into law require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital; ban abortion for the purpose of sex selection or genetic abnormality; and ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which could be as early as six weeks.

North Dakota lawmakers also voted March 22 to put a referendum on the 2014 ballot that would amend the state constitution to say that "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected."

Bishop Kagan applauded the governor for signing the pro-life bills and the lawmakers "who bravely supported measures to extend protections to unborn human life and to advance the health of women."

His statement was released by the North Dakota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's two dioceses. The Diocese of Fargo is currently vacant, and Bishop Kagan is apostolic administrator of that diocese.

"I ask that all Catholics of the state join me this Holy Week in praying for our all of our elected leaders. May the author of life grant them wisdom in all their endeavors," Bishop Kagan added.

Opponents of the abortion measures had urged Dalrymple not to sign them into law and pledged to launch a legal challenge to them if he did.

Regarding the referendum, Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview March 25 that media reports referred to it as "personhood amendment" are incorrect. If that were the case, it would grant all the legal rights of a person to every human life at any stage, he said. "This doesn't do that," he explained.

It also "doesn't ban abortion. It doesn't ban anything," he continued.

However, "it does provide an expression of legislative intent that would make it clear, hopefully, that there is not a right to an abortion in the state constitution and give courts guidance for interpreting state laws regarding life," he told CNS.

He compared the referendum to a Missouri statute ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in its 1989 decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The court upheld portions of the law that limits abortions in Missouri and says in part that "unborn children have protectable interests in life, health and well-being."

In other legislative action, a measure to protect human embryos was defeated and one to ban abortion after 20 weeks was amended and has to go back to lawmakers for a final vote.

In testimony March 12 on the fetal heartbeat bill, which prohibits abortions when the heartbeat of the unborn child is detected, Dodson noted the measure raised "some new legal questions," but he said the questions were without merit.

"Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court only allows states to protect unborn life after the point of viability, which is when an unborn child can survive outside the womb," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The Supreme Court chose viability because it understood viability to be a significant marker of human development. Close reflection, however, reveals that viability is not a measure of human development," he continued.

"A heartbeat, however, is a marker that actually reflects the development of the unborn child. It is wrong that the courts will only allow states to protect some unborn children and not all of them," Dodson said. "However, if the courts insist on only allowing protections for unborn children that are developed to a certain extent, the existence of a heartbeat provides a better basis than viability."

The measure did not specify the timeframe when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, but medical experts say it occurs about six to seven weeks into a pregnancy. It allows an abortion to save the life of the mother but prohibits it in the cases of rape or incest.

Now that is a law, physicians can be prosecuted for violating it, but it does not punish a woman who has an abortion. If convicted, a doctor could face a fine of $5,000 and a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Doctors also could lose their medical license.

The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act bans abortions for the purpose of sex selection or genetic abnormality.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference said it furthered "several important public interests that form the basis of a civil society."

"No matter where a person stands on abortion, we should, as a society, agree that abortion should never be used as a tool for sex-selection or the elimination of children with genetic abnormalities," the conference statement said.

"Sex-selection abortion has drastic effects on society. An estimated 163 million girls are missing in the world because of sex-selection abortions," it said, adding that these kinds of abortions are "not limited to other countries."

"Several studies have documented the practice of sex-selection abortions in the United States and Canada," it added.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970