U.S. News

03.24.13

North Dakota’s Fetal Personhood Amendment: Why I Voted Against It

North Dakota’s State House passed a fetal personhood amendment, which would effectively ban abortion. Rep. Kathy Hawken explains why she voted against it—even though she’s pro-life.

North Dakota does not have a primary seatbelt law, but we are in the midst of the most invasive attack on women’s health anywhere. On Friday, our state House of Representatives passed a fetal personhood amendment, which would grant legal personhood rights to embryos at the moment of fertilization. If voters approve the measure, perhaps in 2014, it will effectively outlaw abortion in the state.

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Pro-life and pro-choice activists argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life on January 25, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

We have stepped over the line—and it’s time to walk it back.

Like many of my Republican colleagues, I personally am pro-life. But I vote pro-choice, because decisions about pregnancy are complex and personal. I can’t make that decision for anyone else. No legislator should.

So far this year, we have taken up six different bills to end safe and legal abortion in our state. Some are the broad, so-called personhood amendments that could also interfere with personal, private medical decisions ranging from abortion to fertility treatment; others ban abortion at different stages in pregnancy. One would effectively ban abortion in the state with overregulation that local doctors have said is medically unnecessary.

One abortion ban was even amended to include a ban on funding for programs like the one that provides sex education to at-risk teens in Fargo, a partnership between North Dakota State University and Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is a trusted leader in teen-pregnancy prevention, providing sex education to more than 1 million people each year. These are the very types of programs that help prevent unintended pregnancy, and the need for abortion, in the first place.

My home state is poised to win the state-by-state race to the bottom on women’s health.

Indeed, my home state is poised to win the state-by-state race to the bottom on women’s health. That my fellow Republicans have paved the way for this distinction is such a disappointment

In my 17 years in the state legislature, I’ve introduced pro-life, pro-women’s health, fiscally responsible legislation such as a prenatal care for minors bill and a bill ensuring quality child care for single moms.

Instead, we have passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban in years—a bill that is sure to cost taxpayers money to defend in court—yet we haven’t stuck to our campaign promises to relieve property taxes, protect higher education funding, or fix the roads.

This agenda is completely contrary to the principles of fiscal conservatism and personal responsibility that have made our party so great. Unintended pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers $11 billion a year. According to a report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, if those giving birth during their teen years instead had their children during adulthood, U.S. taxpayers would save about $1,600 per person annually. For every dollar invested in publicly funded family-planning programs, the government saves approximately $4.

I call on my colleagues in North Dakota and in statehouses around the country to re-attune their focus to the fiscal and economic benefits of making sure every American woman has access to the preventive health care she needs, including birth control, so she can avoid an unintended pregnancy and stay healthy. This is a policy priority that unites, rather than divides, Americans. And this is the policy priority that aligns with my Grand Old Party.