Personhood bill to be heard MondayBISMARCK — Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, says his House Bill 1572 is not an abortion bill and will not ban abortion itself.
By: Janell Cole, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK — Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, says his House Bill 1572 is not an abortion bill and will not ban abortion itself.
But he does believe it could result in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows each state to decide for itself whether to ban abortion.
Ruby is the sole sponsor of the personhood bill, set for a hearing first thing Monday morning in the Capitol, and which has caused a sensation around the country.
If passed in the Senate and signed into law, the state could “be the first state in recent years to mount a legitimate challenge to Roe v. Wade,” he said at a news conference shortly after it passed the House last month.
Ruby and others in the national personhood movement are motivated by a portion of the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 in which Justice Harry Blackmun said that if personhood of the fetus is established, the right to abortion “collapses.”
The bill’s strength, Ruby said, is that it uses scientific language to define human life as beginning at conception, that is, a fertilized human embryo.
Its main portion says: “For the purposes of interpretation of the constitution and laws of North Dakota, it is the intent of the legislative assembly that an individual, a person, when the context indicates that a reference to an individual in intended, or a human being includes any organism with the genome of homo sapiens.”
It’s created a flurry of questions and doubts from not only abortion rights groups but from anti-abortion activists and North Dakota’s Roman Catholic bishops, who worry the bill may prove to be poorly worded if challenged in Court.
“After consulting with various experts, including some with extensive and lengthy experience in abortion law, the bishops concluded that the bill’s existing language raises many unanswered questions, could lead to unintended consequences and injustices, and would not achieve the goal of providing a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” the North Dakota Catholic Conference said in a prepared release last week.
“The last thing you want to do is go with a poorly worded personhood bill, have it defeated and then destroy your chance of overturning Roe,” Paul Maloney, executive director of North Dakota Right to Life said in the Washington Times.
The bishops want the bill changed completely. Though they sympathize with his intent, it carries the possibility of too many unforeseen consequences, the said in a joint statement last week. They said that to commit the state to a “personhood” challenge to Roe is a flawed strategy.
They’re worried it could affect other pro-life bills in the current Legislature that they’re supporting, or existing laws in which “individual,” “human being,” and “person” have unique definitions. They’re also concerned HB 1572 could create penalties for women.
The bishops, through the Catholic Conference, will bring a so-called “hoghouse amendment,” to the Monday hearing. That’s legislative parlance for replacing all of a bill’s language after its opening phrase, “A bill…”
Ruby is adamant that he wants no changes in his bill. He said the rank-and-file North Dakota Catholics are all for the current version and the bishops’ proposed language would more likely foster problems than his bill might.
“They’re looking for problems that don’t exist, in my opinion,” he said.
The bishops and many other people wonder how such a law could affect existing statutes on legislative apportionment, taxes, government programs and anything else that involves enumerating individual citizens or residents. Could a pregnant woman who answers the door to a Census taker count herself as two persons? Could parents claim a tax deduction for a baby not yet born? How about programs like food stamps and other government aid doled out according to family size?
Ruby doesn’t think those will be an issue. But he also gets a bit tongue-tied explaining why.
“For counting purposes, we would define that at birth,” he said. “I don’t know that anybody would think that (those examples) should be the case. I think for purposes of apportionment and … government programs that are attached to the number of people, I think the only ones that would want to count them are people who want to make sure they can pull as many federal dollars (as possible). … They (embryos) are not themselves consuming food for the most part.”
When challenged to explain why a law declaring an embryo a person for the purposes of “the constitution and all laws of North Dakota” wouldn’t affect enumeration, he said, “I guess I don’t see it that way. I don’t see that as being a conflict. I don’t see us changing our procedures for those purposes in any way other than we can count them at the time of birth or however we do it now.”
Ruby also dismisses those who say he is being used as a tool of Personhood USA, a national group. He’s never had any contact with them.
Although he used the term “personhood bill” in an interview on Thursday, he wrote to other legislators that “this bill says nothing about personhood.”
It was a part of a lengthy memo to lawmakers in which he responded to concerns about the bill, citing information he received from a “Catholic professor.”
Christopher Dodson, lobbyist and general counsel for the Catholic Conference, said Ruby is relying on opinions he got from Robert A. Destro, law professor at the Catholic University of America at the Columbia School of Law in Washington, D.C.
The problem, Dodson said, is that after Destro corresponded with or talked to Ruby, he received more complete information and Destro, in fact, now favors the bishops’ proposed amendment.
“At the time he made the comments, Professor Destro did not have the benefit of seeing the proposed amendments or receiving information as to why they were proposed,” Dodson wrote to legislators. “Upon receiving that information, Professor Destro concluded that the amendments proposed by the North Dakota Catholic Conference are ‘far superior to the language which appears in the current bill’ and that they remedy “a number of significant ambiguities” in the bill’s current form.”