North Dakota governor signs bill banning abortion procedure

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed legislation Wednesday that makes it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb.

The bill that passed easily in the GOP-led Legislature last month outlaws the abortion practice known as dilation and evacuation — the most commonly used procedure in second-trimester abortions, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization.

Burgum's spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, announced he signed the bill late Wednesday in a single-sentence email.

The bill uses the non-medical term "human dismemberment abortion" and is graphic in describing the procedure.

Except in cases of an emergency, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The measure says the woman having the abortion would not face charges.

Abortion-rights groups argue that banning the procedure is unconstitutional because it interferes with private medical decisions.

State Health Department data shows the procedure has not been reported in North Dakota since 2015, when eight such abortions were performed.

Laws banning the procedure are on the books in Mississippi and West Virginia. Similar laws are on hold because of legal challenges in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

In December, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Dakota, heard oral arguments over a judge's decision to block Arkansas from enforcing its law.

North Dakota has one abortion provider, the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo. Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker has said her facility's lawyers would wait for a decision in the Arkansas case before deciding on possible legal challenges to North Dakota's legislation.

The abortion measure was the second signed by Burgum. Last month, he signed a bill that requires abortion providers to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions that it's possible they could still have a live birth if they change their mind.

Opponents say there is no medically accepted evidence that a drug-induced abortion can be interrupted.

Before running for office, Burgum, a wealthy former software executive, had been critical of the Legislature's stance on social issues, though he has walked a fine line on abortion in the highly conservative state and has been clearly uncomfortable addressing the topic.

In his first gubernatorial debate, Burgum did not take a position on abortion, saying he preferred allowing North Dakotans to vote on abortion issues, instead of the Legislature. After criticism from an opponent, he said in a later debate he would've supported some of the nation's toughest abortion laws passed in North Dakota in 2013, including one that would have banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, something that can happen before a woman knows she is pregnant.

That law never went into effect after the state's lone abortion clinic filed a successful lawsuit. North Dakota spent $326,000 to unsuccessfully defend the law and paid the clinic $245,000 in a settlement.

Former Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple called it "a legitimate attempt by a state Legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade." GOP majority leaders at the time also defended spending taxpayer money on the lawsuits.