North Dakota Bans Abortions in Most Cases After 6 Weeks

North Dakota Bans Abortions in Most Cases After 6 Weeks
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks during a press conference in Mandan, N.D., on Feb. 22, 2017. (Stephen Yang/Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a new law on Monday banning abortions in most cases, including rape or incest, after six weeks of pregnancy. The law is among the strictest in the country.

The legislation only permits abortions within those first six weeks in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies.

“This bill clarifies and refines existing state law which was triggered into effect by the Dobbs decision and reaffirms North Dakota as a pro-life state,” Burgum, a Republican, said in a statement.

The North Dakota Senate and House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 2150 with strong majorities—42–5 in the upper chamber and 76–14 in the lower chamber.

The legislation repeals certain sections of North Dakota’s existing legal code. According to the bill’s text (pdf), this includes sections on “sex-selective abortions, genetic abnormality abortions, human dismemberment abortions, and abortions after a detectable heartbeat.”

The bill makes it a class C felony for anyone to perform an abortion except under some circumstances.

Exceptions to the ban allow for abortions to prevent the death or serious health risk to the pregnant female. They are also permitted in the case of rape or incest as long as the gestational age of the unborn child is six weeks or less.

The legislation defines a serious health risk to the mother as a current medical condition, not a potential future outcome, and cannot be based on a claim or diagnosis that the woman “will engage in conduct that will result in her death or in substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.” It does not include “any psychological or emotional condition.”

The penalties for violating the law include a maximum of five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Currently, all states that restrict abortion allow the procedure if it’s necessary to save the life of the mother. There are four states that ban abortion from conception which make an exception to allow the procedure in cases of rape or incest.

Only Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, and New Hampshire put no time restriction on abortion currently, while 13 states ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy.

‘Major Victory’

Supporters of the bill believe that passing it aligns with the state’s values of protecting all life, including that of the unborn. On the other hand, those who opposed the bill argued that banning abortions at six weeks is too early because many women may not know they are pregnant by that time.

Pro-life group North Dakota Right to Life called the signing of the legislation a “major victory” for the organization and its “mission to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.”

“We believe every human life, regardless of its stage or circumstances, is a precious gift from God and deserves the utmost respect and protection,” NDRL said in a statement on Twitter. “We are honored to have played a role in the passage of this landmark legislation and look forward to continuing our work to protect and defend the sanctity of human life in North Dakota and beyond.”
During debate on the House floor, state Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot) said the new legislation was a “chance to clean up language in our law, make some improvements to it, adjust to it due to the nature of what we did before the overturning of Roe v. Wade to what is being done now.”

Democrats failed to amend the legislation to ban abortions at 12 weeks in cases of rape.

Last month, the North Dakota Supreme Court blocked the state’s near-total ban on abortion, which was triggered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. That ban was blocked while a legal challenge to determine its constitutionality plays out.

State lawmakers said recently the bill would show the state’s high court that people in North Dakota want restrictions on abortion.

The state’s abortion ban was due to trigger on July 28, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson the month before. However, this was temporarily blocked by Burleigh County District Judge Bruce Romanick amid a legal challenge by the Red River Women’s Clinic on July 27, 2022. That challenge has gone all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Red River Women’s Clinic, North Dakota’s only abortion clinic, shut its doors last summer and moved a short distance across the border to Minnesota, where abortion remains legal.

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