BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota will face legal battle if legislation is approved that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, the director of North Dakota's sole abortion clinic said Wednesday.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, said told the House Human Services Committee that the proposed measure "amounts to an absolute ban on abortions in North Dakota" and warned lawmakers that the state will face costly, drawn-out litigation if the legislation is passed.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, would require testing for a heartbeat prior to a planned abortion. Doctors performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected would face a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Women having an abortion would not be charged under the measure.
Medical experts say a so-called fetal tone can be detected as early as five or six weeks into pregnancy.
Grande, an ardent anti-abortion legislator, told fellow lawmakers that the measure is constitutional and that North Dakota has had laws against abortion dating back to 1877.
"We have a long and proud history of defending life, and that is a legitimate state interest in North Dakota — this is why heartbeat is constitutional," Grande said.
Nearly identical measures have been considered in other states, but none has become law.
Kromenaker said the measure would ban abortion before some women know they are pregnant. And she said it is unconstitutional, citing the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, which is generally considered to occur sometime after 23 weeks of pregnancy.
"This bill would seriously harm women in North Dakota who need to have all of their medical options available when confronting an unintended pregnancy," Kromenaker said. "It is neither this legislature's right nor its place to make that decision for each individual woman facing her own circumstances."
The House committee took no action on the bill Wednesday.
Several Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate have introduced bills this session that would impose more stringent restrictions on abortions in North Dakota, including a measure that would define a fertilized human egg as a person.
Kromenaker said all the measures are aimed at shuttering her clinic, the only such facility in the state.
"It's definitely an attempt to put a total ban on abortion in North Dakota," Kromenaker told The Associated Press.
The Fargo clinic's three doctors perform about 25 abortions weekly, Kromenaker said. Sixty percent of the clinic's patients "are already mothers with at least one child at home," she said.
Republican Sen. Spencer Berry, a Fargo physician, introduced a Senate bill Tuesday that would require a doctor performing abortions to be an OB-GYN with hospital admitting privileges.
"This provision would ensure the ability of the physician performing the abortion to follow a patent to the hospital emergency room or operating room and admit and care for the patient as necessary should any complications arise," he told fellow members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The credentialing process of the hospital would assure that only qualified physicians are providing abortion services in our state."
Less than 1 percent of surgical abortion patients experience a "major complication," Kromenaker said.
"Having an abortion is safer than receiving a penicillin shot," she told Senate lawmakers.
"This requirement would improperly give the hospitals in North Dakota the power to decide whether abortion should be available in this state," Kromenaker said. "That is not fair to women who need these services and who have a constitutional right to access them, and it's not fair to hospitals, which are essentially being drafted by the legislature in the hopes that they will act to ban abortion."
The Senate committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.
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