Lawmaker: North Dakota May Use Texas Abortion Law As Model

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A lawmaker who heads North Dakota’s anti-abortion legislative caucus said Thursday it’s likely the Republican-led Legislature will seek to pass a measure mirroring a new Texas law that virtually bans all abortions and that the Supreme Court has allowed to remain in force.

GOP Sen. Janne Myrdal, one of the Legislature’s most ardent anti-abortion lawmakers, said she “assumes” legislation will be crafted eventually that uses the Texas law as a template.

“I hear people talking about it,” Myrdal said. About a third of the Legislature’s 141 members are active in the caucus, which already has successfully pushed some of the nation’s toughest abortion laws.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said he and his House majority counterpart, Chet Pollert, believe any new abortion legislation will have to be introduced during the regular legislative session that begins in 2023. Wardner said there is not enough time to debate the bill when the Legislature meets later this year in a reconvened or special session meant to deal with legislative redistricting.

“It will take more than a special session," Wardner said. ”We have to do this right. What worked in Texas might not work in North Dakota."

“I haven't heard anything yet about legislation, but given the large percentage of pro-life legislators, I think it will come,” he said.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block enforcement of the Texas law, which went into effect Wednesday.

North Dakota is one of several states that have so-called trigger laws that would ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

Myrdal said the high court’s action offers “a glimmer of hope” the court might eventually overturn Roe v. Wade because of its shift to the right following the appointment of three conservative justices by former President Donald Trump.

“It needs to be sent back to the states where it belongs,” Myrdal said.

North Dakota's GOP-controlled Legislature passed some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws beginning in 2013, 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 U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

The fetal heartbeat bill and other anti-abortion measures passed in 2013 with little debate and with the overwhelming support of Republicans, who wield supermajority control in the Legislature.

North Dakota’s 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. North Dakota spent $326,000 unsuccessfully defending the law and paid the clinic $245,000 as part of a settlement.

Then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, called the law “a legitimate attempt by a state Legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before most women know they’re pregnant.

The Texas law, however, does not enforce the six-week ban through government authorities, but rather gives citizens the right to file civil suits and collect damages against anyone aiding an abortion.

The North Dakota Legislature this year killed a bill that would charge someone performing an abortion in North Dakota with murder, and also would make it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to help women get abortions, including by giving them rides to abortion clinics.

The bill sponsored by GOP Rep. Jeff Hoverson and co-sponsored by some of the Legislature’s other most vocal anti-abortion members did not have the support of GOP legislative leaders.

Hoverson, a pastor with six children, said Thursday the Supreme Court’s decision was an “incremental” step toward banning the procedure altogether.

“I rejoice in what Texas did,” he said.