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N.D. lawmakers define start of life, outlaw abortion

8:16 PM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
North Dakota Republican Sen. Margaret Sitte is the primary sponsor of the North Dakota bill
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BISMARK, N.D. - North Dakota lawmakers Friday completed action to outlaw almost all abortions, voting to define life as beginning at conception.

The Republican-dominated House also approved a so-called personhood amendment that asks voters to change the state's constitution to recognize and protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development." Besides conferring human rights on fertilized eggs and outlawing abortion, the proposition, which will be on the November 2014 ballot, could potentially affect end-of-life decisions for adults.

A third piece of legislation passed Friday by the House requires abortion clinic physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The legislation is aimed at shutting down the state's only abortion clinic, in Fargo.

The House narrowly defeated a fourth Senate-passed abortion bill, which would have defined a human being "as an individual member of the species homo sapiens at every stage of development." It would have also prohibited the intentional destruction of healthy embryos, a move to block embryonic stem cell research.

A week ago, lawmakers sent Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, one bill that outlaws abortion as early as six weeks and another that forbids women from aborting a fetus that has a serious genetic defect.

An abortion opponent, Dalrymple has not said whether he will sign any, all or some of the five measures, which would be the most restrictive in the nation.

Abortion opponents hailed Friday's action.

"We applaud North Dakota for defending life. The bills in North Dakota protect the lives of the most innocent Americans, those without a voice, in the womb. Hopefully, these bills will start a national discussion about what life is and our duty as a civil society to protect it. It starts in the states," Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, told LifeNews.

Abortion-rights groups denounced the results and have promised a court fight if any becomes law.

"I am outraged that North Dakota women's rights and personal health are under attack by extreme politicians. Not only is the Personhood bill extraordinarily dangerous, it's unconstitutional," EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. She predicted that voters would reject the "extremist" amendment, which she called unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion up to about 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but several states have passed laws since then that have restricted or banned most abortions.

In Friday's voting, the House approved Senate Bill 2368, which defines life as beginning at conception and bans abortions at or after 20 weeks. The bill, which cleared the Senate last month, includes an exemption for medical emergencies only.

The "personhood" resolution, which passed the Senate in February, cleared the House on 57-35 vote. Similar constitutional amendments in other states have been rejected.

"We are intending that it be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, since (Justice Antonin) Scalia said that the Supreme Court is waiting for states to raise a case," said the sponsor, Republican state Sen. Margaret Sitte.

Planned Parenthood noted that such constitutional changes have been turned back in Colorado, Ohio, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

"Politicians in North Dakota are wasting taxpayer time advancing what would no doubt become another divisive constitutional amendment with dangerous unintended consequences for North Dakota families," said Sarah Stoesz, the head of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. "Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these legislative attacks on women's health in partnership with a broad coalition of doctors, patients, teachers, lawyers and other concerned North Dakotans who do not want to see politicians inserting themselves into the private medical decision-making of women and families in our state."

Michael Winter, USA TODAY

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