North Dakota Governor Signs
Three Extreme Anti-Abortion Laws

April 7, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On March 26, Governor Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota signed three laws that are the most extreme assaults on the right to abortion so far in the U.S. One law bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is “detectable,” which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy—at a time before many women even find out they are pregnant. Dalrymple made clear that this law was a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion: “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.”

This “fetal heartbeat” law says that if a doctor performs an abortion “before determining” if the fetus “has a detectable heartbeat,” the physician is subject to a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The law does not specify the medical procedure used to determine fetal heartbeat. Fetal heartbeats are generally detectable six weeks into a pregnancy using a highly invasive procedure called transvaginal ultrasound (and at 10-12 weeks using an abdominal ultrasound, where a probe is moved over the outside of the abdomen). The New York Times reported that according to the executive director of the only abortion clinic left in North Dakota, “physicians would feel compelled to perform transvaginal ultrasound to stay in compliance [with the fetal heartbeat law].” (March 26, 2013)

The second law signed by Dalrymple requires doctors performing abortions to get admitting privileges at a local hospital. This law has nothing to do with protecting the health and safety of women who need abortions. In fact, the backers of this law explicitly intended that this measure will make it much more difficult for North Dakota’s only remaining abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, to have qualified physicians on staff—very possibly forcing the shutdown of the clinic. Also signed into law was a bill that bars abortions for reasons of sex selection or genetic fetal anomaly, such as Down syndrome—the first law of its kind in the U.S.

These laws are part of an overall offensive against the basic and fundamental right of women to decide when and whether to bear a child. This offensive is spearheaded by Christian fascists and powerful forces in the ruling structure who portray abortion as murder—while the Democrats push the view that abortion should be “legal but rare,” which means conciliating with and conceding more ground to the Christian fascist attacks on abortion.

Let’s be clear on a basic scientific fact—a fetus is NOT a viable human being but a subordinate part of a woman’s body, and abortion is NOT murder. Fetuses have the potential to become babies, but until they are born they have no independent social or biological existence. Whether or not a fetal heartbeat is “detectable” has nothing to do with this fact. There is nothing immoral about terminating unwanted pregnancies, for any reason. A woman who does not want to continue her pregnancy for whatever reason should have the right and ability to end it, safely, easily, and without any stigma. An abortion is not “tragic”—on the contrary, the real tragedy lies in the lives of women that are foreclosed and endangered by being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

A revealing fact about the forces behind the attack on abortion is that not a single anti-abortion organization supports birth control. This exposes the real agenda of the Christian fascists—imposing a totally reactionary “women as breeders” morality. And this underscores what is at stake in the fight over the right to abortion: A woman who cannot decide for herself when and whether to have a child has no more freedom than a slave.

These new North Dakota laws are expected to be challenged in the courts. But any notion that relying on the courts—and on Obama and the Democrats—is the way to beat back these attacks and defend the right to abortion is dangerously out of touch with reality.

The Obama years have seen the highest number of state abortion restrictions ever—92 in 2011 and 43 last year. And just three months into this year, about 300 anti-abortion measures have already been introduced in state legislatures. The three laws signed by the North Dakota governor come just a few weeks after Arkansas adopted a “fetal heartbeat” law banning abortions at 12 weeks into a pregnancy, which was then the most severe anti-abortion measure in the country. Similar “fetal heartbeat” laws are being pushed in the state legislatures in Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Wyoming.

And the North Dakota legislature has passed a measure putting a so-called “personhood” measure on the state ballot in 2014, giving each fertilized human egg the rights of a U.S. citizen. If approved, this would effectively ban all abortions—without any exception for rape, incest, or danger to the health of the woman—as well as some forms of birth control.

The laws at the state level are just one front of an all-sided attack by the anti-abortion forces. All over the country, clinics have been bombed, set on fire, and vandalized. Women who go into clinics are verbally harassed and often physically assaulted by the fanatics who blockade clinics with their “vigils.” More than one in four poor women who seek abortions cannot afford one, and 97 percent of rural counties do not have even a single abortion provider.

As all this goes on, Obama has not only refused to stand for the basic and fundamental right of abortion but has insisted on seeking “common ground” with the most rabid anti-abortion Christian fascists.

As Sunsara Taylor wrote on the occasion of the 40-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January of this year: “If we do not reverse this trajectory soon—very soon—we will lose this right and condemn future generations of women and girls to FORCED motherhood, against their wills, and to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame.

“And the only way to do that is through massive, uncompromising resistance—beginning now…”

Women are not incubators… Fetuses are not babies… Abortion is not murder… Abortion on demand and without apology!

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