WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 19, 2013, 04:01 PM

Lawmakers urge Dalrymple to veto North Dakota abortion bills

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers has urged Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple to veto measures that would make North Dakota home to the nation's most restrictive abortion laws.

By: JAMES MacPHERSON,Associated Press, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers has urged Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple to veto measures that would make North Dakota home to the nation's most restrictive abortion laws.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, said about 10 senators and representatives from both parties met with Dalrymple and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley Monday night.

"There is concern that we are making laws outlawing a perfectly legal medical procedure," Hawken said.

"We spoke from the heart to the governor," she said. "It's a very tough decision for him. We could see that on his face."

The North Dakota Senate last week approved two anti-abortion bills — one banning most abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, something that can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Another measure would prohibit women from having the procedure because a fetus has has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome.

If the governor signs the measures, North Dakota would be the only state with those laws.

North Dakota is one of several states with Republican-controlled Legislatures and GOP governors looking at abortion restrictions. Arkansas passed a 12-week ban earlier this month that prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound.

A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier in a pregnancy using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women seeking abortions to have the more invasive imaging technique. North Dakota's measure doesn't specify how a fetal heartbeat would be detected.

North Dakota's genetic abnormalities bill also bans abortion based on gender selection. Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma already have such laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions across the U.S.

Rep. Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo who introduced both bills, said she was surprised that lawmakers were lobbying the governor after the measures had been passed by wide margins in both the Senate and the House.

The bills still had not been formally presented to the governor on Tuesday, said Jeff Zent, a Dalrymple spokesman. Dalrymple has three legislative days to sign or veto the measures after receipt.

North Dakota lawmakers also are considering measures that effectively would outlaw all abortions in the state. So-called "personhood" measures would ban abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception.

The state Senate passed two personhood measures last month, and the House could vote on them this week. One of the bills would make the proposal a state law and another is a resolution that would put the definition into the state constitution, if passed by voters.

Other measures include outlawing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point a fetus can feel pain. Another measure requires a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.

Critics of the proposed North Dakota legislation say it's aimed at shutting down the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo. Some backers have said the measures are a direct challenge U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, which is usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Abortion-rights activists have vowed to fight the measures in court.

Lawmakers also worry about costs to defend the legislation, which could be staggering, Hawken said.

Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, who attended the meeting with the governor, said North Dakota lawmakers are overstepping their authority when it comes to abortion.

"The Legislature should not get between a woman and her God," Nelson said.

Republicans have two-thirds control in both the North Dakota House and Senate. Hawken said it isn't certain that if the governor vetoes any abortion measures that the bills would have enough support to pass without him.

"Both sides of the aisle have strong opinions on both sides of the issue," Hawken said.