On Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law three bills that could effectively ban abortion in the state and set up a major legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, which 40 years ago legalized abortion — at least in the first three months of pregnancy. One measure blocks abortions after an embryonic heartbeat can be detected, which can happen at six weeks of pregnancy or even earlier. Another bill would make North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects, such as Down’s syndrome. A third bill, aimed at shuttering North Dakota’s only abortion clinic, will require all physicians who perform abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. We speak to Tammi Kromenaker, the director of the Red River Women’s Center, which is the state’s only abortion provider. We also speak to one of the Republicans who voted against the anti-abortion bills. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to a major development in women’s access to abortion in this country. This time, ground zero is North Dakota. On Tuesday, Governor Jack Dalrymple signed into law three bills that could effectively ban abortion in North Dakota and set up a major legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion 40 years ago—at least in the first three months of pregnancy. One measure blocks abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen at six weeks of pregnancy or even earlier. Another bill would make North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects, such as Down’s syndrome. A third bill will require all physicians who perform abortions in the state to have admitting and staff privileges at a nearby hospital. Meanwhile, a fourth bill has passed in both the North Dakota House and Senate that would amend the state’s constitution to grant fertilized eggs the same rights as U.S. citizens. Voters are expected to decide on that amendment in November, while the other measures are set to go into effect on August 1st.
We’re joined right now by two guests, in Fargo and Bismarck. In Fargo, Tammi Kromenaker is with us, director of the Red River Women’s Center, the state’s only abortion provider. In the capital, Bismarck, we’re joined by one of the Republicans who voted against the anti-choice bills, Kathy Hawken. She has been a state representative representing District 46, which includes parts of Fargo, since 1996.
I want to welcome you both to Democracy Now! We’re going to go to [Bismarck] first, to Kathy Hawken. Explain the significance of this bill, that sets North Dakota apart from the rest of the nation, the strictest abortion ban in the country. How did it happen? And your response to your friend, Governor Dalrymple, signing it?
REP. KATHY HAWKEN: There is a—we’re a very conservative state, and I think that’s part of the reason that North Dakota was targeted. Although the local sponsors say that it didn’t come from outside, if you compare the bills from around the country, they’re certainly very similar. We are conservative. They knew they could probably get this through. And they did, despite the fact that there are, I think, a number of North Dakotans—I was listening while we were waiting for you and heard the representative from Minnesota saying she had made a politically expedient vote. I feel that there are a number of my colleagues who made politically expedient votes on this issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your relationship with Governor Dalrymple—you have been a longtime friend of his—where you stand, what his attitude is toward this, why he signed these. Did it surprise you?
REP. KATHY HAWKEN: I haven’t talked to Jack, but we have a 40-year friendship. And I guess I was very hopeful. I knew that this was a tough decision for him because of the political climate in the state, but I was very hopeful that he would in fact veto them. My disappointment is huge at this point. And he’ll still be my friend, but it’s—I’m extremely disappointed.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn right now to Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Center, North Dakota’s only abortion clinic. Tammi, what do these laws mean for you? And go through them one by one.
TAMMI KROMENAKER: Well, House Bill 1305, which is the sex selection and genetic abnormality, you know, we’re looking into the impact of that one. I’ve never had a woman present at our clinic who says, “I’m having this abortion because of the sex of the pregnancy.” And by the time a genetic abnormality is found, most women are past the point where we can see them at our clinic—we go to about 16 weeks.
House Bill 1456, which is the heartbeat bill—and I’m glad that you said six weeks or sooner. Six weeks into pregnancy is actually, you know, four weeks from conception, so that’s even earlier than some people are realizing. They didn’t come right out and say it has to be detected by a transvaginal ultrasound, but we can assume that’s what they mean. They didn’t want to jump into that fray, but that one’s the most blatantly unconstitutional, and we’re so thankful that the Center for Reproductive Rights has vowed to challenge that.
S.B. 2305, which is the admitting privileges bill, you know, we can just look to Mississippi, where the same type of bill has been passed. The very qualified physicians there have been unable to gain admitting privileges, partly because the hospitals don’t want to jump into this contentious battle. And the bill limited us, our ability to try and gain privileges, at only two hospitals within 30 miles. And one has a requirement that you have to have at least 10 admissions a year. Well, there is absolutely no way that we’ll be able to meet that standard. We’ve had one woman in 10 years who’s been admitted to the hospital. And any physician who admitted 10 patients a year simply wouldn’t be welcome at Red River Women’s Clinic; that would mean they weren’t a competent physician.
AMY GOODMAN: How will you continue with your clinic, the only one in North Dakota, Tammi? How this is going to change your daily operations?
TAMMI KROMENAKER: Well, first of all, none of the bills go into effect until August 1st, so we definitely have time to attempt to see if there’s any way that the hospitals will give privileges to our physicians. The House Bill 1456, the Center for Reproductive Rights will surely file a temporary injunction to stop the pass—or stop that bill from going into effect. You know, we go to court with the state next month, in April, on a bill that they passed in 2011. So we’re already engaged in litigation with the state. And a judge in that case did give us a temporary injunction, because judges give those injunctions because they feel that the plaintiff will prevail. And that was on a medication abortion case, not this much more blatantly unconstitutional House Bill 1456, the heartbeat ban. So what we want to reassure our patients and we’ve put on our website and on social media posts is that we’re open, we’re still here, we’re still able to offer abortion services. And I believe that we will prevail. And unfortunately, this will just be a giant waste of time, energy and taxpayer dollars.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple called on the state’s Legislative Assembly to appropriate funds for the attorney general to defend the newly passed anti-abortion measures. Meanwhile, a conservative nonprofit group, Liberty Counsel, has offered to defend the laws pro bono, saying, quote, “Cost should not be a part of Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s decision to sign or veto the bills. Without life, all other rights are irrelevant,” they wrote. This is a comment of North Dakota State Senator Margaret Sitte, who supported the bills.
SEN. MARGARET SITTE: You know, there are lots of organizations that have lined up and said that they will defend the state in these life bills. There is the Liberty Counsel, Thomas More Law Society. Many organizations are standing ready to join with our attorney general, and they have sent us emails saying they will bear the entire cost to defend these bills.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to her colleague, North Dakota State Representative Kathy Hawken in Bismarck. Congress—legislator Hawken, talk about the forces outside the state that are involved in this legislation.
REP. KATHY HAWKEN: I was not aware of that last little bit about—I’m in the House, and Senator Sitte obviously is in the Senate, and we don’t visit all that often. That leads to the point of, this is outside forces. There isn’t any doubt that these are people who are moving—are trying to move our state in a direction that I don’t believe the majority of the people here do. I’m hopeful that the constitutional amendment will be defeated. And that was part of the reason I was hoping that Governor Dalrymple would veto the other bills, because we do have a bill that—or a constitutional amendment that’s going to go to the people, and we could let the voters decide. It wouldn’t cost the state the legal money, and we could put it to good use doing education funding or child care funding. There are so many needs, and to do it in court just seems like not a valuable use of money.
AMY GOODMAN: The personhood amendment, State Representative Kathy Hawken, explain.
REP. KATHY HAWKEN: It’s terrifying. You know, medical advances have enabled us to do in vitro fertilization. I have many friends that have grandchildren because of this wonderful medical advancement. My husband gave his brother a kidney, and as a result, my brother-in-law is alive. This kind of legislation could prevent that. End-of-life decisions could be excluded so that you would be kept alive, whether you chose to or not. You would have no control over your life. So, the embryo-gets-citizenship bill is terrifying.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of the so-called personhood amendment that would endow fertilized eggs with all the rights of U.S. citizens. This is the first time both the state House and Senate have approved such a measure, which would effectively outlaw abortion. Gualberto Garcia Jones, a legal analyst for Personhood USA, which backed the measure, said the amendment, quote, “takes the pro-life plank of the GOP platform and puts it into practice. Furthermore, it allows the legislature the needed flexibility to implement the specific protections of the right to life through future legislation.” We’ll end with Tammi Kromenaker. Your response to this and the role of groups like Personhood USA? Very quickly, we have 30 seconds.
TAMMI KROMENAKER: Well, these groups come into states that they think are vulnerable, and they push their own agenda on these states. And as Representative Hawken has said, I don’t believe this is what everyday North Dakotans want. They don’t want outside forces coming in. And it’s just absolutely disgusting that some of these legislators—not Kathy Hawken—have allowed this to happen in our state.
AMY GOODMAN: Tammi, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Tammi Kromenaker is the director of the Red River Women’s Center, which is North Dakota’s only abortion clinic, speaking to us from Prairie Public Broadcasting, the PBS station in Fargo, North Dakota. And thank you to the longtime Republican state representative in North Dakota, in Bismarck, Kathy Hawken. She’s speaking to us from the Dakota Media Access, a community TV station that also broadcasts Democracy Now! in North Dakota.