North Dakota Rep. Dan Ruby with Elisha Lancaster
Pro-lifers demoralized by last November's election results, and the rise of the most radical pro-abortion President in US history, are taking encouragement from the successes of the North Dakota state legislature. Led by State Rep. Dan Ruby, North Dakota just passed a series of regulations designed to make it much harder to kill unborn human beings in the Roughrider State. These regulations would force the state's only abortion clinic, Red River Planned Parenthood in Fargo, to offer women ultrasounds of their unborn baby (HB 1371), to notify them that abortion ends the life of a separate human being with a beating heart (HB 1445), and to protect women coerced into abortions by boyfriends, husbands, or parents (SB 2265).
These laws don't go into effect until August 1, so it's too early to know whether Planned Parenthood will comply with them, or if it will reduce the number of abortions, which although being close to half the national average, were reported in October to be heading towards a record number for the year, near 1,400. Many believe these types of laws will make a difference because, in Washington State, for example, Planned Parenthood clinics only show pregnant clients an ultrasound if and when they sign a form indicating they have chosen abortion. Also, many women who get abortions at PP clinics report never having been given medically and scientifically accurate information about their baby.
In addition to these three regulations, North Dakota also passed a resolution, HCR 3015, stating that North Dakota would reject any federally passed so-called "Freedom of Choice Act". The fifth pro-life measure, and the one which garnered the most attention from outside the state, was an attempt to enshrine in the law the medically recognized fact that human life begins at conception. Known as the "Life at Conception Bill", HB 1572 didn't just draw attention from Washington State, but also drew an important supporter.
When pro-life Washingtonian and frozen embryo adopter, Maria Lancaster, first heard that this so-called "Personhood Bill" passed the North Dakota house by a vote of 51-41 in the Spring, she felt that her testimony could be helpful, so she packed her bags and headed to Bismarck. Mrs. Lancaster and her husband Jeff, of Issaquah, adopted a frozen embryo six years ago. That former embryo is now her beautiful 6-year-old daughter, Elisha. After taking that step, one thing led to another, and she ended up standing with President George W. Bush on the podium as he heroically vetoed legislation that would have authorized government money to be spent on destructive embryonic stem cell research. She has since co-founded Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park, here in Bothell, Washington.
Maria, Jeff, and Elisha Lancaster with President George W. Bush
She continued to take her expertise and experience to the halls of power when she testified before the North Dakota Senate in defense of the Informed Consent and Personhood bills. "Knowing that my daughter could have been a medical experiment instead of adopted motivates me to tell people that embryos are human," Mrs. Lancaster told Abortion In Washington (AIW).
The Personhood Bill, which wasn't actually connected with the nationwide Personhood Movement despite suggestions by naysayers, ultimately failed in the state Senate after a barrage of opposition from not only super-wealthy pro-abortion forces, but also some hesitant pro-lifers, most notably the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions were raised about the exact wording of the bill, and the possible consequences on issues like fertility clinic practices and miscarriages. Interestingly, the publicity didn't come until after the bill had already passed the lower chamber. Rep. Ruby told AIW that he was surprised by all the reaction, but he is undeterred. It was the first time it was tried, and the first time such legislation has been approved by any legislature in the US, and Rep. Ruby told us he hopes to reintroduce the legislation in two years, when North Dakota's citizen legislature sits again, after working on perfecting the wording and letting citizens and experts discuss it more.
The bill is intended to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade by finally addressing the elephant-in-the-room question which Roe-based jurisprudence has consistently avoided: when does human life begin? By defining an unborn human being as a person, that individual will automatically come under the protection of the 14th amendment, effectively abolishing legal abortion. It's not clear on what grounds even a liberal Supreme Court would obviate such a law, since the medical facts seem undisputed. The only real opposition seems to be based on consequences.
"North Dakota wants to be abortion free," Mrs. Lancaster told AIW, "and Dan Ruby and his colleagues are serious about taking measures to make that happen". She tells the story of how she testified about the fact that the baby's heartbeat starts at about 17 days of life, 2 days after a pregnant woman misses her first menstrual period, and hence the earliest she could know she was pregnant or schedule an abortion. Her point was that every single abortion is done on a baby with a beating heart. She was the last of the scheduled speakers in support of the Informed Consent bill. Slated to speak immediately after her was Tim Stanley, representing the radical advocates and practitioners of abortion, Planned Parenthood.
But after her testimony, she said, Mr. Stanley got up and left. "He realized he would have just looked like an idiot, a complete fool, if he'd gone ahead and tried to claim that this was just a bunch of cells, or what they like to refer to as POC, Products of Conception," she said. "A POC doesn't have a beating heart." In fact, when the committee chair, Sen. David Nething, asked if there was anyone who wanted to speak against the legislation, there was silence. He even went so far as to ask if there was anyone who was "neutral". Again, nothing.
AIW asked Rep. Ruby if he expected Planned Parenthood, which is famous for being in conflict with the law in numerous states, to comply with the new regulations, and what the enforcement provisions were. "That is a problem", he conceded. "It's up to the State's Attorney", he added, and how frequently inspections and audits are carried out. The regs require clients to sign forms indicating they have received the offer of an ultrasound, and have been told they are killing their unborn child, but he indicated he wasn't sure if PP was simply required to keep forms "on file", or required to send them in to the state Department of Health. "I will look into it," he said. He also told us that the ultrasound bill does not go so far as to require abortion clinics to offer pregnant clients a chance to listen to their baby's heartbeat on a fetal heart monitor.
AIW contacted Planned Parenthood of North Dakota for comment. We spoke with Kathi Di Nicola, media relations director for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the Dakotas. She said she would try to get Mr. Stanley to call us back, but he failed to return our call by deadline. All she could tell us was that Planned Parenthood did oppose all these regulations. She wasn't, however, prepared to explain why.
Rep. Ruby said he would also be interested in investigating other regulations, such as death certificates for unborn victims of abortion, limits on how much abortionists can charge, and even investigating whether PP is engaged in Medicaid Fraud with the 340B drug discount program, as has been charged in California and Washington. But perhaps the biggest impact will come if the Personhood Bill is passed in 2011, and ultimately brings Roe v. Wade crashing down.
All this goes to show pro-lifers that even in the current climate, state-level initiatives can succeed, and can have a dramatic impact for life.