North Dakota has only one abortion clinic and has been rated the worst state in the country for women, but the State Senate passed two bills on Thursday will make it even more difficult for women in the state to access abortion care.
North Dakota lawmakers passed a Personhood Constitutional Amendment initiative on Thursday that would amend the state's constitution to give legal rights and protections to human embryos. If the ballot initiative passes the House, North Dakota voters will decide on it during the 2014 elections.
"We are intending that it be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, since Scalia said that the Supreme Court is waiting for states to raise a case," state Sen. Margaret Sitte (R), the sponsor of the personhood initiative, told HuffPost.
The Senate also passed a bill on Thursday that could shut down the North Dakota's one abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, by requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. A similar law in Mississippi is currently threatening to close the only clinic in that state because the hospitals near the Jackson clinic are all refusing the applications of doctors who perform abortions.
Sitte said that while the bill could effectively end abortion in North Dakota, she supports the bill because it would protect women who experience medical complications after the procedure. "Yes, this bill could possibly close the abortion clinic [in Fargo]," she said. "I'm not saying that's the intention of the law. The intention of the law is to ensure that women have adequate health care and the follow-up care that they need."
The State Senate rejected a second personhood bill introduced by Sitte that would have made it difficult for women to use in vitro fertilization. The bill would have prohibited doctors from disposing of unused embryos after an in vitro cycle, which would force families to pay hundreds of dollars each year to keep the embryos frozen indefinitely. It would have also prevented women with cancer or other illnesses from using a sperm or egg donor to conceive through in vitro fertilization.
"It's like a bad episode of the twilight zone," said Rania Batrice, communications director the North Dakota Democratic Party. "These bills just open the door for every other state in the country to interject themselves into everybody's bedroom."
Sitte said she fully expects North Dakotans to pass the personhood measure in 2014, which declares “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and defended.”
"We know North Dakotans are pro-life," she said. "This just puts a statement of fact into the Constitution."
Sarah Stoesz, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, expressed her disappointment on Thursday with the Senate's votes.
“Politicians in North Dakota are wasting taxpayer time advancing what would no doubt become another divisive constitutional amendment with dangerous unintended consequences for North Dakota families," she said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these legislative attacks on women’s health in partnership with a broad coalition of doctors, patients, teachers, lawyers and other concerned North Dakotans who do not want to see politicians inserting themselves into the private medical decision-making of women and families in our state.”
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Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
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Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."