The Bismarck Tribune, Tom Stromme/AP
North Dakota's two Catholic Bishops, the Rev. Paul Zipfel, right, of Bismarck and
Rev. Samuel Aquila of Fargo.

North Dakota Senate Rejects Bill Granting Human Rights to Unborn

April 06, 2009 01:03 PM
by Rachel Balik
A bill in the North Dakota legislature bestowed human rights immediately after conception has been voted down by the state Senate after passing in the House this February.

Controversial 'Personhood' Bill Defeated in Senate

A bill that defined human life as "any organism with the genome of homo sapiens" was voted down by North Dakota state senate in a 29-16 vote. The bill, which essentially gave a fertilized egg human rights, passed in the House in February 2009. The law would apply to all embryos, in or outside a woman, and drew equal criticism from those for and against legalized abortion, the AP reported.

One Republican senator expressed concern about managing difficult pregnancies, since mother and fetus would have equal rights. Two doctors testified before the Senate stating the bill would cause legal problems for in vitro fertilizations.

Two Catholic bishops in the state spoke out against the proposed law, as did Planned Parenthood, but for different reasons. Bishops Paul Zipfel and Samuel Aquila stated support for bill in principle, but refused to endorse it unless certain amendments, listed by the Bismarck Tribune, were made; these changes, Bishop Aquila stated, were required to make the bill a "sufficient challenge" to Roe v. Wade.  For its part, a spokesperson predicted a "bureaucratic and legal quagmire" if the bill was passed.

A woman named Maria Lancaster drew attention when she traveled from Seattle, Wash, to testify in favor of the bill. She said that she adopted a two-cell embryo that was frozen for four years before being implanted in Lancaster. The procedure was successful, and she felt that her perspective on the rights of embryos offered
“‘people a perspective they need to hear,’” the Minot Daily News reported. 

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Background: House approves bill; history of abortion law

A bill declaring that “any organism with the genome of homo sapiens” has the rights afforded all citizens of the North Dakota passed in the state House in February by a vote of 51–41.

Rep. Dan Ruby sponsored the bill; he told the Associated Press that the bill, which would grant legal rights to fertilized human eggs, would not necessarily ban abortion. He said that the bill simply served to define the beginning of human life, and that the language was not as strong as anti-abortion bills he had proposed in the past. The bill's detractors said that defending it will cost millions of dollars, as it appeared to conflict directly with the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

The state has a history of opposing abortion. North Dakota passed a bill in 2007 that would outlaw abortion except in cases of incest, rape or when the pregnancy jeopardized the mother’s life, as soon as the courts ruled that such a law was constitutional. Pro-life groups perceived the bill as a great victory, but others were alarmed about the threats it posed to women’s rights.

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion was a constitutionally protected right, determining that the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy supported a woman’s right to have an abortion during the first trimester of a pregnancy. The states were considered to have a certain amount of jurisdiction over a woman’s right to abort during the second and third trimesters, however.

In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, prohibiting a type of abortion often used during later trimesters. This type of abortion is now only allowed in situations of medical emergency. The majority opinion declared that the ruling did not infringe on abortion rights, but a dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the ruling was “an effort to chip away” at women’s rights, CNN reported.

Reference: State abortion laws


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