The North Dakota Senate on Friday rejected a "personhood" bill that would grant constitutional rights to human embryos but approved several other pro-life measures.
Without debate, the Senate voted 29-16 to defeat House Bill 1572, which would have granted "personhood" status to all human beings "irrespective of age, health, function, physical dependency, or method of reproduction, including their preborn offspring at every stage of their biological development."
Despite encouraging doctors to provide "equal care" for both mother and child, the measure contained language that allowed exceptions for a mother who needs a life-saving medical operation.
"The death of the child may be permitted as an indirect and unavoidable result of steps necessary to save the mother's life," the bill states.
Sen. Curt Olafson (R-Edinburg), an opponent of the bill, however, said the legislation presented physician with the "dilemma" of treating problem pregnancies that could threaten the woman's life because both she and her unborn child would have equal status under the law.
A physician "faces an impossible dilemma" if needing to treat a pregnant woman for cancer that could harm a fetus or embryo, or a woman experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, he said before the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to The Dickinson Press.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Ruby (R-Minot), had told the Associated Press that the legislation did not automatically ban abortion, but supporters of the measure were hopeful that it could eventually pose a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
Pro-life groups were elated when the bill cleared the House 51-41 in February.
Keith Mason of Personhood USA, an organization that mobilized grassroots support for the measure, said following the House decision that he believes that as the" understanding that all humans are people spreads, the injustice of abortion will end."
Personhood legislation has been introduced in several states around the country, including Maryland, Montana, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.
According to Personhood USA, these efforts aim to fill the "Blackmun Hole" in Roe v. Wade. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in the 1973 Supreme Court decision that if it were established that the pre-born is a person, the argument for abortion collapses.
That strategy did not sit well with North Dakota's Roman Catholic bishops who issued a statement in early March indicating their reluctance to support the personhood bill because they found the strategy to challenge Roe v. Wade through the legislation a "flawed" move. The bishops had proposed changes to the bill that would make it more of a statement of legislative intent rather than mandate to revise existing laws and define human being using more commonly used and less ambiguous terms.
Although the Senate defeated the personhood bill, it passed other pro-life legislation on Friday.
HB1445, which requires abortion facilities to inform the woman that "the abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique living human being," passed by a 34-11 vote.
HB1371, which requires the abortion facility to perform an ultrasound and tell the woman that she has a right to view the ultrasound, was passed in the Senate by a 44-1 vote.
Both bills had earlier passed the House.
The Senate also passed a resolution urging Congress to reject the Freedom of Choice Act, which would invalidate 18 current laws enacted by the people of North Dakota, according to Janne Myrdal, director of Concerned Women For America of North Dakota.
On Saturday, Myrdal thanked supporters for their "faithful stand in life and truth."
"The answers to prayers were quite evident yesterday as there was clarity and peace in both assemblies as these bills were brought up for votes," she stated.