Last week, the North Dakota legislature passed the most stringent abortion ban in the nation, cutting off access to reproductive services after just six weeks of pregnancy — before some women even know they’re pregnant. But Republicans in the state aren’t stopping there. The legislature is also considering even more stringent “personhood” measures, which would endow fertilized eggs with the full rights of U.S. citizens and outlaw absolutely all abortion services.
Two personhood bills — Senate Bill 2303 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 4009 — have already passed the Senate, and the GOP-controlled House is expected to take them up sometime this week. But if North Dakota successfully enacts a total abortion ban, there will be serious consequences for the state that extend even beyond women’s reproductive freedom. Here are five ways the state will suffer under personhood:
1. There will be fewer doctors in the state available to provide medical care. In a historic move for the North Dakota Medical Association, the nonpartisan organization has come out against personhood. The group points out that the anti-abortion measures go too far to “interfere with the physician practice,” and they suspect it will be harder to find qualified medical professionals willing to practice in North Dakota if the state imposes so many complicated restrictions on doctors. Some doctors have already testified before state lawmakers to say they will leave North Dakota if the abortion bans pass.
2. Maternal health care will be compromised. Doctors could be charged with criminal negligence if anything happens to an embryo — which could prevent them from making quick decisions that could help save women’s lives. The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died after being denied an abortion in a Catholic hospital because her doctors were reluctant to provide care that could get them in trouble with the law, highlights the serious consequences of state lawmakers coming between a woman and her doctor.
3. Women could be forced to resort to illegal abortion procedures. Under a personhood law, women will end up resorting to dangerous “backroom” abortions, one former pediatrician warned North Dakota lawmakers last week. That Fargo-area doctor did his medical training before Roe v. Wade, when women were dying of bacterial infections after botched abortion procedures — and he warns that the passage of the proposed personhood measures would pull North Dakota back into “the stone age of medicine.” There’s evidence to back up that claim. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the legality of abortion has absolutely no correlation to abortion rates around the world, because women will continue to seek to terminate pregnancies regardless of the law.
4. Women won’t be able to use in vitro fertilization to try to have a family. Ironically, in addition to compromising medical procedures for the women seeking to terminate a pregnancy, personhood measures also place restrictions on the women who are trying to get pregnant. “These bills will stop the practice of in vitro fertilization in this state,” Dr. Stephanie Dahl, an obstetrician-gynecologist and reproductive medicine specialist in Fargo, explained to lawmakers. Doctors wouldn’t be able to perform any procedure that carries the risk of damaging some embryos, so women would be forced to travel to South Dakota or Minnesota for in vitro treatment, a six-week process that requires multiple sonograms and up to 12 visits to the doctor.
5. The state will become embroiled in expensive lawsuits. North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban already runs afoul of Roe v. Wade, and will certainly invite several costly legal challenges. A total abortion ban would lead to similar consequences. Two personhood bills were recently struck down in Oklahoma, suggesting that the courts won’t take kindly to North Dakota’s push to restrict women’s constitutional rights, either. Nevertheless, even the self-proclaimed “fiscally conservative” Republicans in the state are willing to defend their abortion bans on the state’s dime.
So far this session, Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature have successfully advanced a radical anti-abortion agenda in North Dakota — and that’s on top of the existing abortion restrictions. Women already have to undergo a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before having an abortion, and there’s just one last abortion clinic left in the entire state.