Docs say ND bill will hurt infertile couplesBISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — An anti-abortion proposal being considered by North Dakota lawmakers that asserts that a fertilized egg is a human being could hurt couples who want to have children, doctors said Tuesday.
The measure would declare that a human being is "an individual member of the species homo sapiens at every stage of development." Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, the legislation's sponsor, said the intent is to make abortion a criminal act in North Dakota, which already has strict anti-abortion laws.
Doctors told the North Dakota Senate's Judiciary Committee that it could affect couples using in vitro fertilization to try to have a baby as well as women who have complications in early pregnancy that will prevent an embryo from developing into a viable baby. Such complications include an ectopic pregnancy, which happens when a fertilized egg begins growing outside the uterus. The doctors who testified said they did not perform abortions.
The measure implies that a fetus, from the time of conception, could be a victim of homicide, assault or reckless endangerment. In those cases, it includes exceptions for "medical treatment for life-threatening conditions;" in vitro fertilization, in which an egg is fertilized outside the woman's body; and morning-after contraception.
Although the measure exempts in vitro fertilization from criminal penalties, it includes language saying that "causing injury to a human being" is not justified.
Dr. Stephanie Dahl, a Fargo infertility specialist who works at North Dakota's only in vitro fertilization center, said the bill would make it illegal to do the procedure.
"The process of IVF may result in injury to an embryo," Dahl said. "It is unavoidable."
Dr. Shari Orser, a Bismarck obstetrician and gynecologist, told the committee that most eggs that are fertilized for in vitro fertilization never become viable embryos "and only a small percentage of embryos thought to be viable produce a child."
"To suggest that every embryo is a person is absurd," Orser said.
Gualberto Garcia Jones, an attorney for Personhood USA, argued the legislation should not affect in vitro fertilization, which he said was less regulated in North Dakota than it is in several European countries.
"We're not talking about a doctor in an IVF clinic who makes a mistake, drops a petri dish, and he's going to suddenly be convicted of homicide," Jones said. "We're talking about established standards that have precedent in the law of North Dakota that define recklessness, negligence. ... I don't think we want North Dakota doctors to be able to be negligent with human life."
Orser said the law also would complicate the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Without treatment, a tubal pregnancy can result in serious internal bleeding and death, she said.
Other conditions can result in a fetus developing without kidneys, lungs or a brain, Orser said.
"These diagnoses are often made in the first half of these pregnancies," Orser said. "Should a woman be forced to continue the pregnancy when she knows that her baby will die, or can she be spared the emotional distress and the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term?"
A similar bill was defeated in the Senate two years ago, and Ruby said its backers have tried to address critics' concerns with the new measure.
The proposal is being advocated by a Colorado organization, Personhood USA, which hopes to challenge U.S. Supreme Court decisions that favor abortion rights with the argument that a fertilized egg is a person with inherent human rights.
The Judiciary Committee did not take action on the bill Tuesday. It is HB1450.