Confusion Over North Dakota Personhood, Informed Consent Bills


The backlash to the fall election is interesting indeed. Anti-choice legislators across the country, not daring to attack abortion rights from the front, are coming at access from all sides. It’s a sometimes sneaky and often paternalistic assault on women’s and doctors’ rights, characterized by intimidation and the insinuation that women seeking abortion need a lesson in morality.

North Dakota is a particularly illuminating example. Earlier this month, the State House approved a bill requiring that doctors offer ultrasounds to women seeking abortions. (This bill is one of many across the country.) Then, yesterday, North Dakota legislators passed a bolder bill that would force abortion providers to tell women that what they are about to do is murder:

HB 1445 would direct the abortion practitioner to tell women that an abortion will terminate the life of a "whole, separate, unique, living human being.

Reports on this bill are confusing. Some coverage of it implies that it’s a personhood bill, defining conception as the moment when life begins — failing to understand that North Dakota is also considering a personhood bill. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Damschen, seems to insist that it’s an informed consent bill and that it won’t interfere with abortion rights.This bill, which would put the religious definition of some into the mouths of all doctors, is so audacious that it’s hard, at first, to know what to say about it. But though its practical effect is murky, its intent is clear. We can look at it as the logical end of more common restrictions on abortions. In this way, it’s just a more honest expression of the paternalistic anti-choice measures that have nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with ideology. 

In Arizona, for example, there’s a bill combining some of these measures, including a mandatory waiting period and the allowance of medical and judicial interference to abortion access. In the wake of Roe v. Wade, anti-choice legislators have a common refrain. Unable to bar women outright from having abortions, they are saying over and over again: “You are not fit to choose. We know better.” Whether they decide that the woman is too young, or the abortion is too soon, or too late, they are tirelessly finding ways to chip away at our rights. And when a woman can’t be stopped through her youth or through a waiting period, the anti-choice laws resort to the guise of “providing information.” In the case of North Dakota House Bill 1445, Rep. Chuck Damschen tries to cast the measure as protective of women’s emotional health:

“If it prevented even one woman from having an abortion, and suffering remorse from it later on, it would be a good bill.”  

The confusion over this bill—what makes for informed consent, and what consequences would personhood legislation have?—should be a wake-up call to those concerned about abortion rights. One may quickly lead to the next, and if we’re not vigilant about what’s going on in North Dakota, the disturbing rhetoric there may travel fast.

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