North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) signed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
A pro-choice protestor raises a sign quoting a slain abortion doctor. PHOTO: Tim Pierce/Fickr
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) signed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The governor also signed a law banning abortions due to detected genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome. How a heart beat would be detected was left unspecified in the legislation, but one method known to detect heartbeats very early is the trans-vaginal ultrasound, which involves inserting a rod into the woman's vagina. Virginia ran into a massive backlash after nearly passing a bill that would have mandated that women get a trans-vaginal ultrasound before terminating a pregnancy. Doctors performing abortions in which a heartbeat could be detected would get up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The North Dakota measures are meant as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that prevents any state from banning abortion until the fetus is viable, usually around 22-24 weeks. With President Obama in office until 2016, this is the most conservative the Supreme Court will be at least until then, and anti-abortion advocates are gunning for a Supreme Court fight.
The measures are also meant to target North Dakota's single abortion clinic in Fargo. While they can't ban the clinic outright, these bills could make it impossible for the clinic to conduct most abortions, especially because they would create an extremely narrow (or non-existent) window between when a pregnancy was detected and when it could legally be ended.
Two other anti-abortion measures await Dalrymple's signature. One would ban abortion after 20 weeks, based on the disputed premise that fetuses feel pain at that point, and another, clearly aimed at the Fargo clinic, would require any doctor who performs abortions to have hospital-admitting privileges, effectively allowing hospitals to block a doctor from being able to perform abortions. A ballot referendum defining life as beginning at conception, and essentially outlawing abortion will be put before voters in 2014.
I'll leave the debate over when a fetus should have autonomous rights independent of the woman it is growing inside for another day. For now, I'll only point out that punishing a doctor but not the woman for an abortion incentivizes dangerous DIY abortions, which would be illegal, but with no one to punish.