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North Dakota Senate OKs Bill Regulating Abortion Providers

Posted at: 02/07/2013 5:46 PM
By: AMBER HUNT, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota senators passed several bills Thursday meant to send a message that the state is anti-abortion, but they turned down critics' repeated attempts to set aside money for lawsuits that are likely to follow.

One of the bills that passed would require a doctor who performs abortions to be an OB-GYN with hospital-admitting privileges - a move that opponents said is designed to close the state's sole abortion clinic.

Some who supported the bills said the goal is to directly challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

"In North Dakota, the right to life is upheld for all persons," said Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck.

Sitte co-sponsored one of the proposals that passed, a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the inalienable right to life of every "human being at any stage of development." It will go before voters in November 2014.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, on Thursday thrice tried to amend bills to set aside $1 million for the lawsuits that might follow. Each of her amendments failed.

"All of these bills clearly will go to litigation," she said, adding that it was irresponsible for lawmakers to pass such controversial measures without setting aside money to fight the court battles.

North Dakota has just one abortion provider, the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo. Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker told The Associated Press after the Senate voted that the bills were "clearly intended to regulate abortion out of existence in North Dakota."

Kromenaker said abortions are safe procedures, with fewer than 1 percent resulting in complications. In the past decade, the clinic has had to transport just one woman to an emergency room because of a complication, she said. The clinic on average provides about 1,200 abortions each year.

Republican Sen. Spencer Berry, a physician from Fargo, introduced the bill requiring abortion providers to have hospital-admitting privileges. He said Thursday that his goal wasn't to undermine Roe v. Wade, but rather to ensure that women get the best medical care possible.

"We owe it to North Dakota women," he said.

Similar legislation passed in Mississippi in 2012. The only abortion clinic in that state is at risk of shutting down because it hasn't been able to comply with the law.

Admitting privileges can be hard to get. Kromenaker said some hospitals require that doctors admit a certain number of patients to the hospital each year. A physician working at the clinic isn't likely to reach any threshold, she said.

"Honestly, abortion is so safe, we just don't admit patients to the hospital," she said.

Not every anti-abortion bill passed the Senate, however. One that would have punished people who failed to provide "the ethical treatment of human embryos" failed. Critics said it could have prevented couples from using in-vitro fertilization.

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Hunt contributed from Sioux Falls, S.D.

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(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)