This year, lawmakers in North Dakota approved the harshest abortion ban this country has seen since Roe v. Wade — cutting off access to legal abortion at just six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant. And that’s not all. Lawmakers have also tried their best to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state, enacting sweeping new regulations that are specifically designed to force it out of business.
So far, both restrictive laws are being blocked from taking effect while legal challenges against them proceed. But the damage has already been done for many of the women who used to rely on their state’s only abortion facility, the Red River Women’s Clinic. The environment surrounding reproductive rights has become so hostile that many of them simply assume the procedure has been outlawed.
“We’re definitely hearing from women that they thought we were closed and that abortion is illegal,” the clinic’s director, Tammi Kromenaker, told the Associated Press this week. “Abortion is still legal in the state of North Dakota and we’re still here.”
Yet the number of abortions performed at Red River has declined significantly for the first time over the past decade. The state is on track to record a 15 percent drop in abortions since 2012. And the people who operate clinics in surrounding states, Minnesota and South Dakota, say they believe there’s been a recent increase in the number of women traveling there from North Dakota.
Connie Lewis, the spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, explained that this type of misinformation about what state laws are currently in place isn’t not uncommon following a highly-publicized battle over a new abortion restriction. Harsh anti-choice bills introduced in South Dakota in 2006 and 2008 had a similar effect, even though they didn’t become law. “It was a significant drop off and we did hear from people who said they weren’t sure we were open. It has leveled off some now,” she noted.
Rep. Bette Grande (R), who was one of the primary backers of the harsh restrictions that North Dakota approved this year, doesn’t believe that women are crossing state lines to end their pregnancies. Grande told the AP that women are simply changing their minds about whether they want an abortion, and choosing to remain pregnant. “They are saying, ‘This has affected my thinking.’ More women have thought through the process and said, ‘This is not what I want to do,’ ” Grande claimed.
That’s a common talking point for Grande. She believes that banning abortion will ultimately help women realize that they don’t want an abortion after all. “I appreciate the fact that it will change hearts and minds,” Grande said in reference to the six-week abortion ban back in April.
Research into the subject doesn’t back up Grande’s position. Studies have found that state-level abortion restrictions — such as mandatory waiting periods, counseling sessions, and ultrasounds — don’t actually change women’s minds about ending a pregnancy, because the vast majority of women are confident about their decision to have an abortion before approaching a doctor. And internationally, the Guttmacher Institute has found that harsh abortion bans don’t actually do anything to lower abortion bans. Instead, they encourage more women to seek out unsafe methods and potentially risk their lives. An estimated 47,000 women die each year after botched illegal abortions.
Kromenaker doesn’t believe there are actually 15 percent fewer women in her state who all of a sudden don’t need this type of reproductive care anymore. “I don’t think women’s circumstances and the reason they come to us have changed,” Kromenaker pointed out.