North Dakota’s Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple signed multiple abortion restriction bills into law Tuesday, including a so-called fetal heartbeat bill that can ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
Dalrymple acknowledged that the heartbeat law will almost certainly face legal challenges in court, and he said in a statement that he considers it to be “a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”
“Because the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed state restrictions on the performing of abortions and because the Supreme Court has never considered this precise restriction…the constitutionality of this measure is an open question,” he said.
Pro-choice activists decried the legislation. “There’s a startling trend of anti-choice politicians attempting to send women back to a pre-Roe era, and North Dakota just topped the list,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “To deny women options to care before they even know they’re pregnant is just plain cruel. Adding insult to injury, even survivors of rape or incest would have no control over their own bodies if their attack resulted in a pregnancy. This law could force women to take drastic steps with no other option than unsafe, illegal abortion.”
The other two laws signed Tuesday include a ban on abortions “performed solely for the purpose of gender selection and genetic abnormalities” and a new set of regulatory laws that could potentially shut down the state’s only abortion clinic, Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, by requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Many suspect that the latter law could be the biggest threat to North Dakota abortion access.
“We definitely see the TRAP bill as the one that will end abortion in the state,” Tammi Kromenaker, the director of Red River Women’s Clinic, told RH Reality Check. (She made similar comments on the Rachel Maddow Show Monday night.) “The other bills aren’t really a threat right now, but this one could close us.”
The legislation is similar to another TRAP law passed in Mississippi last year, which threatens to shut down that state’s only remaining abortion clinic. The problem for Mississippi’s Jackson Women’s Health Clinic is that hospitals typically require doctors to admit a certain number of patients a year to maintain admitting privileges, and doctors at family planning clinics rarely, if ever, have a need to admit patients to hospitals.
The North Dakota clinic will face a similar hurdle. As a Democratic state representative explained to the local Jamestown Sun, hospitals typically require a physician to admit 10 patients per year to maintain admitting privileges, but the Red River Women’s Clinic has only had to take one patient to the hospital in the last decade.
Dalrymple signed the bills the day after pro-choice supporters rallied across the state in opposition to the laws and a recently passed “personhood” amendment that will go before North Dakota voters in a referendum. That amendment could potentially ban all abortions, some forms of birth control, and even in-vitro fertilization treatments, by defining an embryo as a legal person. Mississippi voters rejected similar legislation by double digit margins in 2011.