Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, signed into law March 26 three bills restricting abortion, including two that establish new pro-life milestones:
-- The earliest state abortion ban, one based on an unborn child's heartbeat, which could be as soon as six weeks into gestation;
-- The first state law to prohibit abortion on the basis of a genetic irregularity in the unborn baby.
In addition, the North Dakota House of Representatives approved March 22 a personhood amendment, making the state legislature the first in the country to pass such a measure, which would protect life at every stage of development, including in the womb. The Senate already had endorsed the proposal.
The amendment will go next to the state's voters without approval by the governor to decide whether it will be added to the state constitution.
The "genetic abnormality" ban also includes a provision prohibiting abortions performed on the basis of the unborn baby's sex. North Dakota becomes the fifth state to outlaw sex-selection abortions, according to Americans United for Life (AUL).
The third abortion restriction signed by Dalrymple requires an abortion doctor to be licensed by the state and have admitting, as well as staff privileges at a local hospital.
AUL President Charmaine Yoest praised Dalrymple and the legislature for "courageous humanity" in approving the bans on abortions based on genetic irregularities and sex.
"A civil society does not discriminate against people -- born and unborn -- for their sex or for disability. We should be celebrating diversity, not destroying it," Yoest said in a written statement. "Women in particular have been targeted for death in the womb, and we've also seen dramatic abortion rates for children with disabilities which put them at risk for extinction."
An estimated 90 percent of unborn babies diagnosed in the United States with Down syndrome are aborted. Some other genetic diagnoses result in similar abortion rates.
Sex-selection abortion is a major problem in such Asian countries as China and India, where male children are often valued more than females. Recent studies in the United States and Canada have indicated people within some Asian communities who already have daughters are aborting unborn females to ensure their next child is a male.
The new heartbeat measure that could outlaw abortions as early as six weeks faces an uphill battle against a legal challenge. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a leading abortion rights organization, promised to bring a lawsuit, and even some pro-life advocates think it has little chance of surviving.
In signing the legislation, Dalrymple acknowledged the potential pitfalls in court.
"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," he said in a written statement. "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."
Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton -- companion rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 -- legalized abortion effectively for any reason throughout pregnancy. Later high court opinions, especially in a 1992 case, upheld some state restrictions on abortion, and states have passed a variety of successful regulations since those rulings. The justices have ruled a state can restrict abortion after viability, which is typically considered to be at about 22 to 24 weeks after fertilization.
The Arkansas legislature enacted the earliest previous ban on abortion by overriding a veto by Gov. Mike Beebe less than three weeks prior to North Dakota's action. That law prohibited abortion when the heartbeat of an unborn baby has been detected by ultrasound at 12 weeks or later.
Before Arkansas' heartbeat law, a ban at 18 to 20 weeks after fertilization had been the earliest enacted by a state. A federal judge in Idaho struck down that state's 20-week prohibition -- which is based on evidence a baby in the womb experiences pain by that point -- on the same day Arkansas enacted its 12-week ban.
States have enacted at least 14 pro-life laws so far this year, AUL reported April 1.
North Dakota's "genetic abnormality" prohibition covers "any physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, Down syndrome, albinism, amelia, or any other type of physical or mental disability, abnormality, or disease," according to the bill's text.
In addition to North Dakota, the other states to enact sex-selection prohibitions are Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, according to AUL.
Exceptions to both the genetic irregularity/sex-selection and fetal heartbeat bans are provided for a threat to the life of the mother or risk of "substantial and irreversible" damage to a "major bodily function" of the mother.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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