North Dakota lawmakers on Friday approved a state referendum for this fall on a constitutional amendment that, if passed, would effectively block abortion by holding that life begins at conception.
In a 57-35 vote, the House followed the Senate’s action and approved the referendum, which will go before the voters on the November ballot. Groups backing abortion rights said they will fight the referendum and, if needed, in the courts as well.
“It is too intrusive and has too many unintended consequences,” said Tammi Kromenaker of the Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s sole facility offering abortions. Other states, she said, “have defeated similar measures by a wide margin. I have faith and hope that the voters of North Dakota will vote the same way.”
The action is the latest in a series of moves by North Dakota lawmakers to limit and, in some cases, even eliminate abortions. Lawmakers have passed bills that would ban abortions six weeks after conception or after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A second measure would ban abortions because of genetic defects. Both bills now head to the governor, who has yet to say what he will do.
If Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs those bills, it would make North Dakota the state with the strictest anti-abortion laws in the nation. It will also set the stage for more lawsuits, since the state measures conflict with the federal standard. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and other cases held that there was a constitutional right for a woman to have an abortion before the fetus reached viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
“North Dakota politicians have gone too far,” Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said in a statement emailed to reporters. “With the passage of an unprecedented package of bills that will severely limit women’s access to safe and legal abortion, lawmakers launched the state into a series of expensive and needless battles.”