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Published February 12, 2011, 12:12 PM

N. Dakota abortion bill bans embryo destruction

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's House on Friday approved two anti-abortion bills that would ban the destruction of human embryos and regulate drugs that a woman may use to end her pregnancy.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's House on Friday approved two anti-abortion bills that would ban the destruction of human embryos and regulate drugs that a woman may use to end her pregnancy.

Critics of the measures said they amounted to state intrusion into personal freedoms. "We are deciding what is OK for a single person," said Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo. "I don't believe that is our role."

Representatives endorsed both measures, 68-25. They now move to the North Dakota Senate for additional review.

The embryo legislation is intended to regulate in vitro fertilization, during which a woman's egg is fertilized outside the woman's body. The egg is then implanted in the woman's uterus to develop.

North Dakota law already bans doing harm to embryos through experimentation. The legislation approved Friday would prohibit intentional destruction of embryos, although they could be frozen, implanted in another woman's body, or put up for adoption.

The law does not apply to embryos that are destroyed by "morning-after" contraception or some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy to fight cancer.

A supporter, Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, said the legislation was written to take into account the unintentional loss of embryos during in vitro fertilization.

"In the process, there are going to be many embryos that don't make it. (The law) doesn't disallow that," Weisz said during House debate on the legislation. "If an embryo dies in the process, that happens, but you can't willfully, or purposely, cause injury or destroy that embryo."

Amy Jacobson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, argued the legislation could make illegal some treatments for infertility and tubal pregnancies.

"Its scope and impact could upend North Dakota criminal law," Jacobson said in a statement. "It could take years for the North Dakota courts and Legislature to clarify their legal meaning."

Christopher Dodson, director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, which supports the legislation, said it was much different than a so-called "personhood" bill the North Dakota House approved two years ago that conferred human rights on a fertilized egg. The conference did not endorse the legislation, which was defeated in the state Senate.

Dodson said the new bill's definition of a human being as "an individual member of the species homo sapiens at every stage of development" is confined to North Dakota's criminal code, rather than applying to state law generally. Dodson said he did not believe the legislation would ban abortion in North Dakota.

The second measure changes North Dakota's primary anti-abortion law to regulate the use of drugs to end pregnancies. The law now refers to abortions performed by a doctor, rather than through use of a drug.

North Dakota has only one clinic that offers abortions, the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo. Jacobson said North Dakota already has abortion laws that are among the strictest in the nation.

"Abortion may make many of us uncomfortable, but one thing we can all agree on is that personal medical decisions are best made by a woman, her family and her doctor, not the government," Jacobson said.

The bills are HB1450 and HB1297.

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