North Dakota's Republican Governor Admits He's More Interested in Legal Battles Than Women's Health

Human Rights

On Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) approved a package of strict abortion restrictions, including an unconstitutional six-week abortion ban and a measure intended to force the state’s last abortion clinic toclose its doors.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the governor admitted that he didn’t sign the legislation based on “any religious belief or personal experience” that compels him to oppose abortion — instead, he’s simply trying to entangle the state in a legal battle that could eventually have big implications for Roe v. Wade:

“Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” Dalrymple said in a statement, referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion up to until a fetus is considered viable — usually at 22 to 24 weeks. [...]

Dalrymple seemed determined to open a legal debate on the legislation, acknowledging the constitutionality of the measure was an open question. He asked the Legislature to set aside money for a “litigation fund” that would allow the state’s attorney general to defend the measure against lawsuits.

He said he didn’t know how much the likely court fight would cost. But, he said money wasn’t the issue.

It’s no secret that the anti-abortion community is hoping to use a state-level strategy to strike down the constitutional protections in Roe, imposing increasingly stricter bans they hope will eventually lead to a Supreme Court challenge. But Republican lawmakers haven’t typically been quite as open about their ultimate goals, instead choosing to couch their language in messages about women’s health and safety. This legislative session, however, anti-choice legislators are less concerned about tiptoeing around their intentions for Roe — despite the fact that 70 percent of Americans currently oppose overturning the court decision.

Whereas the legal fights over the past several years have largely centered on 20-week abortion bans, which shave about 2 to 4 weeks off of the constitutionally protected window for legally terminating a pregnancy, the goalposts have now been moved significantly. North Dakota and Arkansas have practically been tripping over each other to see which state can undermine Roe with the harshest restriction on abortion — Arkansas pushed back the cut-off for legal abortion services to just 12 weeks of pregnancy, and North Dakota topped that with its6-week ban.

Elizabeth Nash, the states issue manager for the Guttmacher Institute, explained to Bloomberg that states are displaying a new boldness, even in the face of clearly unconstitutional abortion bans. Although grassroots efforts like the push for “personhood” — which seeks to ban abortion altogether by defining life at conception — have always pushed the envelope, state legislatures have typically been more wary to advance laws that arelikely be struck down in court. But that’s not necessarily the case anymore. “There’s this sense of one-upmanship going in the states,” Nash said. “If you asked me two years ago would a state do something like this, I would have said no.”

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