The Indirect Effect of N.D.'s New Abortion Laws

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 29 2013 10:47 AM

North Dakota's New Laws Could Create an 800-Mile-Long Abortion Clinic-Free Zone

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If North Dakota's new abortion bans go into effect, it could create an 800-mile section of the Great Plains with no legal abortion provider.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed legislation that would give North Dakota the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The legislation bans the procedure as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that can happen as early as six weeks in; imposes the first state ban on abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome; and makes it generally more difficult for a doctor to perform the procedure by requiring those who do to have hospital-admitting privileges.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The measures, which wouldn't go into effect until Aug. 1, are likely to face a serious legal challenge in court, and many expect the heartbeat ban to be overturned, something even Dairymple hinted at when signing it into law. "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," the governor said this week, referring to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at around 22 to 24 weeks.


As unlikely as the law is to survive, ABC News does a good job of illustrating the indirect—but perhaps not unintended—impact of the ban if it holds up: The likely closure of Fargo's Red River Women's Clinic, which according to the Guttmacher Institute has existed as the lone abortion provider in the state since 2001.

The Red River Women's Clinic's performs 18 percent of its non-chemical abortions before a fetus reaches seven weeks, meaning about 80 percent of its abortions will be banned Aug. 1 unless a judge says otherwise. While the clinic will look into expanding its services to keep its doors open, Kromenaker said it will probably have to close if the law takes effect. ...
If a new law goes into effect, the Red River Women's Clinic will likely close — leaving one of the nation's largest swaths without an abortion provider. The area would include western North Dakota, eastern Montana and western South Dakota, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights research group.

If the Red River clinic shuts its doors, it would leave the closest abortion clinic to Fargo a roughly three-and-a-half-hour drive away in Minneapolis, Minn., or Sioux Falls, S.D, according to the institute. Those in the western half of North Dakota would have even further to travel, with most having to make their way to Billings, Mont., located more than 200 miles from North Dakota's western border, to find a place to have the procedure performed legally. (For perspective, the distance between Fargo and Minneapolis—230-odd miles—is roughly the same as between New York City and Washington, D.C.)

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