On Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) signed into law what is being called the most conservative anti-abortion law in the country, outlawing abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy — or the approximate amount of time it takes until a fetal heartbeat is detected with a transvaginal ultrasound.
Included in two additional bills, all signed at once by the Governor, are provisions to mandate that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges in area hospitals, and prohibitions against abortions in cases of gender preference or the detection of genetic defects — the first of its kind in the nation to pass.
This comes just weeks after the Arkansas legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe (D) to pass legislation outlawing abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation — or the time necessary to detect a heartbeat with an abdominal ultrasound.
According to a CDC study, North Dakota’s law would prohibit approximately half of all early terminations. In 2006, 64% of abortions were performed by the eighth week of gestation; 91.7% were performed by the thirteenth week.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, N.D., is concerned. “In the past it’s been, ‘We’re going to try and make it more difficult, more hoops, more obstacles for women to have to jump through or jump over…’ But this is specifically: ‘Let’s ban abortion. Let’s do it. Let’s challenge Roe v. Wade. Let’s end abortion in North Dakota.”
“North Dakota is now the most unsafe state in the nation,” says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. “As a health-care provider, we know the impact it has on women to no longer have access to legal abortion. Lives are being put in jeopardy … it is chilling to think that for women in America, your rights now depend on your Zip code.”
Penalties for doctors found to have knowingly violated the law are steep, including heavy fines and up to five years in jail.
“Although the likelihood of his measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” Gov. Dalrymple said in a statement. Roe states that abortions are legal until the fetus was viable, or able to survive outside the womb — usually between 24-28 weeks’ gestation.
What does this mean for the future of the Roe? Abortion stands as something of an anomaly in American political culture, as one of the few contemporary social issues for which Americans have gotten more conservative. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 47% of Americans consider themselves “pro-choice,” down from 56% in 1996. Meanwhile 46% of Americans consider themselves “pro-life,” compared to just 37% in 1996.
“I assume something [will go to the Supreme Court],” Richards continues. “I hope the Supreme Court will honor the judicial precedent, that this is a right women and men have had for 40 years and won’t let it [be taken] away.”
According to the same Gallup poll, 29% of Americans are in favor of overturning Roe; 53% are against it. 18% are unsure.