North Dakota lawmakers, who have pushed a stringently anti-choice agenda since the new legislative session began, are set to consider a package of abortion restrictions this week that would tighten the state’s laws even further. But one Fargo-area doctor is warning lawmakers that advancing those measures would have disastrous effects on women’s health — rolling back the clock to a time before Roe v. Wade, when women often resorted to dangerous measures in the absence of safe, legal abortion services.
North Dakota lawmakers are moving closer toward shutting down the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, as well as considering the same two abortion restrictions that Arkansas Republicans recently forced into law — a “fetal pain” ban to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks, and a much more stringent “fetal heartbeat” ban that would outlaw all abortion services just six weeks into pregnancy. Piling on those abortion restrictions would prevent many women in the state from accessing the critical health care they need, retired pediatrician Ted Kleiman explained to lawmakers on Tuesday.
Kleiman has firsthand experience with the consequences of denying women access to reproductive resources. When he was working in a New York hospital before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion services in 1973, he saw at least one woman die from the complications from a botched illegal abortion. “The thought of returning to those days is really beyond imagination,” Kleiman told state senators, urging them not to close North Dakota’s only abortion clinic.
But unfortunately for the women whose state lawmakers are hostile to abortion rights, being forced to return to the days before Roe v. Wade isn’t a distant possibility. It’s dangerously close to becoming their reality. States across the country are successfully chipping away at women’s constitutionally-protected reproductive rights, threatening to return to an era when an estimated 1.2 million women — typically, those who lacked socioeconomic and racial privilege — were forced to resort to illegal, unsafe abortion procedures each year.
Around the world, unsafe abortions contribute to an annual 47,000 preventable deaths. Unlike access to contraception, the legality of abortion has absolutely no correlation to abortion rates around the world, since women seek to terminate pregnancies regardless of the law. If anti-choice lawmakers in states like North Dakota have their way, women in this country could certainly be forced into that type of “backroom” procedure as well — even while Roe v. Wade technically still stands.