One year ago, North Dakota boasted a single abortion clinic. This sole provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic, served over 376,000 women living throughout North Dakota’s 70,705 square miles. Access to abortion was already limited, but lately, we’ve seen there’s no limit to what rights may be taken away from women.

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s wrongheaded decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization threw 50 years of precedent out the window along with women’s right to abortion. It was a blow to women throughout the country as state trigger laws banning abortions descended around us, suddenly snatching away our reproductive rights, the ability to make our own health care decisions, and deciding the shape of our families.

Fortunately, North Dakota’s trigger law was blocked by a district judge, whose ruling was upheld by the State Supreme Court. The Court argued that the state Constitution includes “a fundamental right to an abortion in the limited instances of lifesaving and health-preserving circumstances.”

Despite the North Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling, this April, Governor Doug Burgum signed into law one of the United States’ strictest abortion bans, outlawing all abortions except pregnancies in which women face death or “serious health risk,” or those caused by rape or incest – but only in the first six weeks.

At six weeks, many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant. Six weeks is insufficient time for a young girl who is the victim of rape to determine she is pregnant. Even those who are aware they are pregnant have likely just found out. It’s a timeframe in which women must not only come to terms with the danger to themselves or with the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy, but also make the necessary arrangements – schedule childcare, book travel across hundreds of miles, take time off work, save up money – to seek abortion services.

Republicans seem incapable of grasping that women do not choose to have an abortion frivolously; they are choosing to do so because an abortion can be necessary, life-saving health care. Republicans are inserting themselves between doctors and their patients without understanding – or caring – that this interference leads to devastating health outcomes.

These politicians are just that – policymakers, not physicians. They are qualified to make policy decisions on behalf of their constituents that better their opportunities for success, not medical decisions on behalf of patients that constrain them or jeopardize their health. Their qualifications to make policy are even under question, because banning abortion, criminalizing medical services, forcing doctors out of the state, deterring new doctors from practicing, and harming women’s health are simply not good policy.

Abortion is critical for a women’s health, social, and economic well-being. A year has passed since the pall of the Dobbs decision has descended over America, sowing confusion as legal battles over bodily autonomy draw and redraw the lines of what health care is or is not. Until we secure the right to an abortion, our fight for women continues, and it’s a fight to bring back common sense to North Dakota.

Tessa Gould
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