BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said his decision to sign strict new abortion laws, including the nation’s toughest restriction on the procedure, was not based on “any religious belief or personal experience” and that he believes legislators have a right to ask such questions about abortion restrictions.
The Republican governor signed three anti-abortion measures on Tuesday — including one banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, or when a heartbeat can be detected. By doing so, Dalrymple positioned his oil-rich state as a primary battleground in the decades-old fight over abortion rights.
Within minutes of signing the laws, unsolicited donations began pouring into the state’s lone abortion clinic to help opponents prove the new laws are unconstitutional.
The governor urged lawmakers to set aside cash for an inevitable legal challenge.
“Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” Dalrymple said in a statement, referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion up to until a fetus is considered viable — usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
In an interview later Tuesday, Dalrymple told The Associated Press that the courts opened the door for a challenge by picking a specific moment in the timeline of gestation.
He also said he studied the fetal heartbeat bill and “educated myself on the history and legal aspects as best I could. My conclusion is not coming from any religious belief or personal experience.”
Dalrymple seemed determined to open a legal debate on the legislation, acknowledging the constitutionality of the measure was an open question. He asked the Legislature to set aside money for a “litigation fund” that would allow the state’s attorney general to defend the measure against lawsuits.
He said he didn’t know how much the likely court fight would cost. But, he said money wasn’t the issue.
“The Legislature has decided to ask these questions on additional restrictions on abortions, and I think they have the legitimate right to ask those questions,” he said.
He also signed into law measures that would makes North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome and require a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.
Lawmakers endorsed a fourth anti-abortion bill last week that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that fetuses feel pain at that point. The governor stopped short of saying he would sign it, but said: “I’ve already signed three bills. Draw your own conclusion.”
The signed measures, which take effect Aug. 1, are fueled in part by an attempt to close the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo — the state’s only abortion clinic.
Tammi Kromenaker, the clinic’s director, called the legislation “extreme and unconstitutional” and said Dalrymple “awoke a sleeping giant” by approving it. The clinic, which performs about 3,000 abortions annually, was accepting cash donations and continued to take appointments Tuesday, she said.