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North Dakota Bishops Praise State’s Six-Week Abortion Ban

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law a six-week abortion ban April 24, 2023. He is pictured here in an April 7, 2018, photo. (CNS photo)

WASHINGTON — A six-week abortion ban signed into law April 24 by North Dakota’s Republican governor, Doug Burgum, is being hailed by the state’s Catholic bishops as an “important step toward making the state a sanctuary for life.”

 An April 24 statement from the North Dakota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, said the new law “unifies, clarifies, and strengthens North Dakota’s abortion laws.” It also said it was the “result of months of work involving legislators, public officials, pro-life organizations, and the state’s healthcare organizations.” 

The state’s bishops also said they recognized that “banning abortion is not enough,” adding: “Everyone, including the state government, must respond with love so that women and families receive the support and care needed so that abortion becomes unthinkable.”

The state’s law, effective immediately, is one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, allowing abortions during the first six weeks of pregnancy only in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency, such as ectopic pregnancies.

The governor, in a statement reported by The Associated Press, said the new law “clarifies and refines existing state law … and reaffirms North Dakota as a pro-life state.”

The state Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill in a 42-5 vote April 19.

In written testimony to the North Dakota Legislature in March, Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said the conference supported the measure because it “better states the Legislative Assembly’s previously enacted abortion laws for this post-Roe world.”

He explained that the state already bans abortion after six weeks but that there had been confusion about this that the new law would clarify.

The April 24 statement from the North Dakota Catholic Conference also emphasized that new law “addresses legal concerns expressed by the North Dakota Supreme Court in proceedings challenging the now-repealed ‘trigger ban.’ ”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in Dobbs v. Jackson triggered multiple state laws banning or restricting abortions and many of these bans were then met with legal challenges.

In North Dakota, for example, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state abortion ban would remain blocked while a lawsuit over its constitutionality proceeds.

The state’s new ban is also likely to face legal challenges, but state lawmakers said that by passing this bill they were sending a message to the state’s Supreme Court that the people of North Dakota want to restrict abortion. 

As Dodson explained in his written testimony: “Almost immediately after the Dobbs decision, it became apparent that legislators, healthcare providers, activists on both sides, and journalists were confused about what law applied and when.”

He said several legislators and representatives from pro-life organizations met and decided that “it would be in everyone’s interest to work off one cleaned-up law. People might want to debate what should be the law, but first, let’s better state what is the law.”

North Dakota currently has no abortion clinics. The owner of the most recently closed clinic has been involved in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Dakota’s previous abortion ban.