North Dakota enacts abortion, disability bill

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As part of its new strictest-in-the-nation abortion law, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed a bill March 26 making the state the first in the nation to bar abortions on the basis of a fetus’ disability.

The “fetal abnormalities” bill imposes punishments of up to one year in jail for health care providers who perform abortions due to “any defect, disease or disorder that is inherited genetically,” according to a Time Magazine article.

Though most major disability rights advocates are either pro-choice or taken no public position on the matter, many fear that some abortions are performed based on misconceptions or misinformation regarding certain disabilities.

The concern is prevalent in the Down Syndrome community. Studies have found that as many as 90 percent of expectant mothers choose to have an abortion upon learning their fetus is diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

North Dakota’s new abortion law bars abortions after the first sign of a fetus’ heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, except for in cases affecting the life of the mother, according to a Bismarck Tribune article. Abortions on the basis of gender selection are also barred, similar to the laws in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma.

The law directly contradicts the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and later decisions, which prohibit states from criminalizing abortions performed prior to viability, which normally occurs at about 24 weeks.

Though North Dakota is the first state to directly bar abortions based on disability, other states have triggered a backlash from disability advocates by highlighting disability in their regulations. In 2011, Texas passed a mandatory sonogram requirement that contained specific exceptions for cases of rape and incest, as well as fetuses with an “irreversible medical condition or abnormality.”

A few states require the dissemination of certain information about Down Syndrome during prenatal testing. In Massachusetts, which passed a law in 2012, health care providers must provide “’up-to-date, evidence-based, written information,’ about the physical, intellectual and developmental outcomes of the chromosomal disorder, and treatment options,” according to a Time Magazine article.