The governor of North Dakota signed a controversial bill on April 16 that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The United States Supreme Court determined in Roe v. Wade that had a woman had the right to a legal abortion until as late as 24 weeks, the age of viability, while the North Dakota bill used the age at which a baby can feel pain.
Other recent laws the North Dakota governor has signed include a law that bans abortions when a baby’s heartbeat can be detected, at about six weeks. The state also banned abortions based on genetic defects or genetic selection. In addition, doctors who perform abortions must be admitted to hospitals. The new laws mean that North Dakota places more restrictions on abortion than any other state. Next up for North Dakota is a bill that would ban abortion in the state and define the start of life at conception. Voters will probably vote on the measure in November 2014.
The state currently has one abortion clinic, and pro-choice supporters insist that the goal of the new laws is to shut down the clinic. They claim the laws are unconstitutional and promise to challenge them.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and The Center for Reproductive Rights joined together to fight the new abortion restrictions in North Dakota and in Arkansas. One representative essentially argued that abortion restrictions earlier than 12 weeks could endanger a woman’s health.1
Many people thought that the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade settled the abortion issue once and for all. However, pro-life activists have raised their voices in an outcry against what they believe are lax abortion laws. The recent trial of Kermit Gosnell, who is accused of murdering babies after botched abortions, has only strengthened their position as they insist that abortions are deadly to mothers and babies alike.2 They add that a lack of regulation and financial and political pressures have resulted in reduced oversight of clinics for women in poverty who have little, if any, recourse to pay for birth injuries in the aftermath of a failed abortion.
Laws in North Dakota and Arkansas could eventually mean a trip back to the land’s highest court as abortion foes might contend that new scientific research affects the issue. Earlier fetus viability, improved ultrasounds, and technological advances in determining birth defects could all play a significant role if the court decides to readdress the issue.