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House passes 2 bills limiting abortions

BISMARCK -- Legislation passed by the North Dakota House of Representatives Friday would prohibit abortions if a heartbeat can be detected in the fetus or because of the gender or genetic abnormalities.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, warned House members about the bills, both sponsored by Rep. Betty Grande, R-Fargo.

"With these bills we know we're going to court, they are all going to court," said Hawken, who voted against the bills. "If they are found to be unconstitutional, we are not only going to pay our share, but the other share as well."

Both bills will need to be passed by the Senate.

House Bill 1456, passing by a 63-28 vote, would prohibit abortions if a heartbeat is detected while a baby is in the womb.

House Bill 1305, which passed by a 64-27 vote, would prohibit abortions because of gender or genetic abnormalities. The "prenatal nondiscrimination bill," as its known nationally, received the only discussion from other legislators.

"Everybody knows where they are going to go on those bills," Grande said. "No reason to have drawn out discussions."

HB1305 specifically refers to genetic abnormality as, "any defect, disease, or disorder that is inherited genetically," including, "any physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, Down syndrome, albinism, amelia, or any other type of physical or mental disability, abnormality, or disease."

Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, agreed babies should not be aborted because of the gender or if it has a genetic abnormality. "I wouldn't be here if that were the case," said Oversen, who was born with spina bifida.

But Oversen said she voted against the measure because the statistics offered were outdated, it is an intrusion of the confidential relationships between the physician and patient and does not provide language to allow a woman to abort her child even after it has died in the womb.

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, opposed the bill as well. He said the idea is a matter of religious conscience and no church has the same definition of when life begins.

"I believe the discussion of abortion depends on what religion you come from," he said. "If we enact this kind of bill what you'll have is one religion imposing its definition of life upon another woman."

The bill would make it a class A misdemeanor for a physician to perform such an abortion and receive up to one year in prison, $2,000 fine or both.

Under HB1456, performing the abortion after six weeks would be a Class C felony, which carries a max penalty of five years in prison, $5,000 fine or both.

If passed by the Senate, the bill would require a physician to inform a pregnant mother that a heartbeat has been detected and prohibit an abortion thereafter, unless the mother's life is threatened by the pregnancy.

Grande said some research shows a heartbeat can be detected as early as five weeks into a pregnancy, but is very clear at six weeks old.

"On one hand you have the right of privacy and on the other hand you have the state obligation to look at life and health of the woman and life and potential life of the child," Grande said. "You start weighing that and tell us and decide what you are going to do about the issue."