BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota has been poised for years to outlaw abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 ruling that legalized the procedure.
A 2007 state law makes it a felony to perform an abortion unless necessary to prevent the woman’s death or in cases of rape or incest. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The law is to take effect when the legislative council approves a motion recommended by the attorney general that it is “reasonably probable” the law would be upheld as constitutional.
North Dakota is one of about a dozen states, including South Dakota, that have laws that would come into force if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as a draft opinion leaked late Monday suggests.
North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature has routinely approved restrictive anti-abortion measures, including one that would have banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalized abortion until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks. The fetal heartbeat law never took effect because the state’s lone abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, successfully challenged it in court.
Red River Women’s Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker called the leaked decision devastating.
“I think we’re looking at the final opinion,” she said. “The writing has been on the wall for some time. It’s what we’ve all been bracing for.”
The clinic, in downtown Fargo, serves patients from several nearby states. Fargo borders Minnesota, where there’s more protection for abortions than in North Dakota and South Dakota. Kromenaker, who previously rejected the suggestion to move the clinic across the border, said she would now consider it.
“I plan to do everything in my power to maintain a presence in the area,” Kromenaker said. “If that means moving over the river to Minnesota, that’s what we’re going to do.”
North Dakota recorded 1,171 abortions in 2020, the latest figures available from the state Health Department.
Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal, who is one of the North Dakota Legislature’s most ardent anti-abortion lawmakers, said overturning Roe v. Wade would be the biggest ruling of her lifetime and “something I’ve been hoping and praying for.” But, she said, the draft opinion shouldn’t have been leaked, calling the leak “dangerous to the institution of the Supreme Court.”
“It was a malicious leak and whoever is responsible must be held accountable,” she said.