Roger writing the LAWmag

North Dakota Abortion Law Stirs Hornet Nest

At the very northern tip of the United States, rubbing against the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, is the state of North Dakota, home to some 700,000 Americans.

And one which just came out with a very controversial piece of legislation described by most as "anti-abortion".

Detectable Heartbeat

At its heart, the North Dakota law says that no abortion is legal if at the time of the abortion the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.

"... an individual may not perform an abortion on a pregnant woman before determining, in accordance with standard medical practice, if the unborn child the pregnant woman is carrying has a detectable heartbeat."

Depending on the technology used, this could be as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

North Dakota abortion imageThe North Dakota package is considered the most Draconian of all American states, including those that continue to whittle away at Roe v Wade, such as in Arkansas.

Special interest groups are lining up to challenge the law in courts of law before it takes effect on August 1. Bible-thumpers are out en masse mostly in praise of the statute. One was quoted in the local news as follows, on hearing of the statute:

“It’s just a glorious day. Coming from Mass and this beautiful service and then hearing this. With the new Pope, I just feel like there’s an awakening coming in Christianity, and this is just another sign."1

But one female North Dakota senator and lawyer Connie Triplett had a different view:

"Our young people are embarrassed on what's going on, in a state where we are trying to attract young people and build our economy and diversify our lifestyle this is just such a large backwards step.”

No-one Can Truly Say

Every generation faces its own tough legal questions. Some are truly ancient. Should prostitution be legalized? Should the use of marijuana for medical purposes be lawful?

Abortion is one of those tough, mind-boggling legal questions. Although barbaric contraptions have existed for centuries to cause an abortion, the issue has really come to the forefront since the Second World War and medical advances have made abortion relatively safe for the woman.

Medical advances or not, abortion remains in the never-never land of legal questions that no lawyer, judge, priest parent can truly answer. It is up to every citizen to make up their own minds and only in the aggregate of those opinions in a true democracy can those legal questions be resolved, at least within that particular democracy.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the legislatures orphan these issues upon the courts of law. In the United States, for example, the 1973 United States Supreme Court, Roe versus Wade, historically established that abortions were lawful until the fetus was viable outside the womb which, the Court added:

"Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 week."

One 18-year-old younr woman we spoke to while researching this article has a point in suggesting that perhaps only women should be entitled to vote on this issue, to essentially make the decision on the legality of abortion. In fairness, she has not been privy to the heart-wrenching human dramas that have played out in the courts so that for the most part, abortion is legal early in the term of pregnancy. Nor has she been privy to the horrific news reports on the murderous attacks on abortion clinics by so-called pro-life supporters.

But should she be interested, she will be privy to the agonizing hornet nest the people of North Dakota will now be subject to as both sides of the debate flood the streets of Grand Forks and Fargo and all points in-between, some cocooning the local abortion clinic, other rallying in the name of God that no fetus, from conception, should be terminated.

It will be hard and it will divide but it will dramatically show, in any event, that the law is not always a perfect fit upon the human condition. Each side will have its bevy of doctors, priests, lawyers and, apparently, legislators but to a man and woman, none will truly have a clear answer to this ancient and humbling legal issue.


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Abortion Law in Canada
  • Eligon, J. and Eckholm, E., New Laws Ban Most Abortions in North Dakota, New York Times, March 26, 2013
  • NOTE 1: Dalrymple Signs All Three North Dakota Anti-abortion Bills, Anticipates Court Battles, WDAY News, Fargo North Dakota, March 26, 2013
  • Roe v Wade, 410 US 113 (1973)

Posted in Human Rights, Law Makers, Politicians

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