North Dakota ‘Personhood’ Bill Targets Roe v. Wade

North Dakota’s war against women gets worse every day.

Earlier this month, the Republican-dominated state senate passed a “personhood” bill giving legal rights to human embryos, all but outlawing abortion in most cases. If Gov. Jack Dalrymple signs the bill, North Dakota would be the first state ever to successfully implement a “personhood” law, in spite of the numerous physicians who say these laws are dangerous to women:

“SB 2303 will restrict a doctor’s ability to treat doomed pregnancies, putting women’s lives at risk,” Siri Fiebiger, a physician from Fargo who practices obstetrics and gynecology, said in a statement released Tuesday. “Ectopic pregnancies are, and miscarriages can be, life-threatening if not treated in a timely fashion,” Fiebiger added. “Complications during pregnancy should be managed by physicians according to the patient’s needs and values, without involvement by politicians.”

Another bill making its way through the North Dakota legislature would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, on the disputed basis that at that point, a fetus can feel pain. State Republicans have also tried to regulate in-vitro fertilization and are reportedly pushing for legislation that could shut down the state’s only abortion clinic. Together, any combination of these laws could make abortion virtually inaccessible in North Dakota.

More shocking is how conservative North Dakota legislators freely admit that they’re trying to eliminate abortion rights once and for all, by attacking Roe v. Wade and eventually getting the Supreme Court involved:

“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,” Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-N.D., the sponsor of the “personhood” initiative, told the Huffington Post.

The worst part is: Their efforts could succeed.

When the nonprofit Christian group Personhood USA brought their anti-choice campaign to Mississippi in 2011, it was already with a Roe v. Wade challenge in sight:

The idea for personhood was born during Roe v. Wade’s oral arguments, when Justice Potter Stewart said, “If it were established that an unborn fetus is a person, you would have an impossible case here.” Now, Personhood USA is trying to use the amendment to establish “personhood” as a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade ruling.

And while “personhood” activists lost in Mississippi, Salon’s Irin Carmon writes, it’s all part of a broader campaign by the Religious Right to outlaw abortion altogether. Campaigns that start at the state level make their way into the courts, Carmon writes, building a slow momentum for anti-abortion activists to eventually challenge Roe v. Wade itself:

A Nebraska ban on [partial-birth abortions] was overturned by the Court in 2000, but seven years later, the Court said an identical federal ban was OK, thanks to the presence of Alito.

“They directly reversed the rule from 2000,” says Priscilla Smith, a senior fellow at Yale Law School, who argued the 2007 case, Gonzalez v. Carhart. “One decision was, we’ll err on the side of the woman’s health. The other was, seven years later, we’ll err on the side of the state.” So much for judicial precedent. At the same time, Justice Anthony Kennedy alarmed pro-choice observers with an opinion rhapsodizing, irrelevantly, about how some women regret having abortions.

Somehow, anti-abortion activists in North Dakota and elsewhere — largely Christian, even if they don’t say so outright — have the audacity to say the “personhood” movement is a matter of “equal rights and protections.” (Never mind their drive to deny women’s rights to their own bodies!) From WND:

“Our understanding of pregnancy and human development since Roe v. Wade has changed dramatically,” says Jennifer Mason, a spokesperson for Personhood USA. “There is no question now that the unborn child is a human being and a person, who has a right to legal recognition and protection.”

It seems to me the only thing changing here is our respect for women’s rights to our own bodies — though it’s debatable whether the Christian right has ever really respected women to begin with.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at