Women’s health is under attack all across the country — in fact, at this point, every single state except for Oregon has enacted at least one abortion restriction to limit access to reproductive services. But some states seem to be competing for the dubious title of the very worst state for women. Right now, North Dakota is pulling into the lead.
North Dakota Republicans have wasted no time so far this year attempting to roll back women’s reproductive rights. Just barely over a month into 2013, North Dakota’s lawmakers are already pushing at least five serious attacks on women’s health:
1. Threatening to close the state’s last abortion clinic. On Thursday, state senators advanced legislation that threatens to close down North Dakota’s only remaining abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. The legislation would require all doctors who perform abortion services to have hospital-admitting privileges — a complicated and unnecessary step that will likely prevent abortion doctors from continuing to practice in the state. It’s incredibly similar to the GOP-led effort in Mississippi, another state that has just one abortion clinic left, where abortion doctors have been unable to gain hospital privileges and women may soon be left without many options for their reproductive care.
2. Advanced a “personhood” amendment. Republican senators also advanced a personhood measure on Thursday that would amend the state’s constitution to endow zygotes with the full rights of U.S. citizens. If the measure passes, fetuses would be granted all of the legal rights and protections of North Dakota residents — which would ultimately ban abortion, some forms of contraception, and even invitro fertilization. Personhood initiatives are so radical that they haven’t seen much success even within the anti-abortion community.
3. Considering a “fetal heartbeat” bill. Just to hedge their bets in case the extreme personhood amendment doesn’t work out, North Dakota lawmakers are also considering the next best thing: a “heartbeat” ban to outlaw abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy. At that point, some women don’t even know they’re pregnant yet — but North Dakota’s heartbeat ban would criminally prosecute them for having an abortion by the time they figured it out.
4. Could mandate transvaginal ultrasounds. The other conservative states that are beginning to propose “heartbeat” bills are quickly learning that this type of legislation may be even more hostile to women’s rights than they first imagined. Because the measures would require doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat before proceeding with an abortion, they would necessitate a transvaginal ultrasound — an unnecessary, invasive procedure — since that’s the only way to detect a fetal heartbeat so early in the pregnancy. The sponsor of Arkansas’ heartbeat bill has amended his legislation to specify that it wouldn’t ban abortion until the fetal heartbeat can be detected with an abdominal ultrasound, but North Dakota’s Republicans haven’t made any similar accommodations to their own measure yet.
5. Blocked sex ed resources for at-risk youth. And on top of legislators’ recent flurry of proposed abortion restrictions, the rest of the anti-choice community in North Dakota is also doing its best to remain hostile to women’s health. Even though North Dakota State University won a three-year federal grant to partner with Planned Parenthood to provide a sex education program for at-risk teenagers in the state, the school may be backing out of it after pressure from anti-abortion activists. The proposed sex ed program would have been voluntary, taken place outside of public school hours, required parental consent, and offered family planning resources. But anti-abortion activists decried the initiative, calling Planned Parenthood “an overt abortion industry that we don’t want to be a part of” — despite the fact that the Planned Parenthood affiliate in North Dakota doesn’t even perform abortion services.