Why Don't We Have That?
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
August/September 2007

It is often said that the states are laboratories for the development public policy. Our federal system allows states to enact legislation independent from each other, each responding to their unique history, traditions, and conditions. When one state enacts legislation, other states may follow and try to improve on its example.

Inevitably, someone, looking at another state, will ask, “Why don't we do that?” What works or is possible in one state, however, may not work or be possible in another state. Here is a look at some laws in other states that have not been embraced in North Dakota.

Abortion clinic regulations and licenses A few states have enacted legislation singling out abortion clinics for special regulation. For constitutional reasons, enacting such legislation is difficult. The legislation cannot single out a particular clinic nor be based on animosity toward abortion itself. One factor that has made it possible elsewhere is that those states already regulate health clinics. Regulating abortion clinics was only a matter of creating a different or additional regulations or in some cases merely including abortion facilities under the general clinic regulations.

North Dakota, however, does not regulate and license any medical clinics and has no mechanism for doing so. Regulating only abortion clinics would most likely fail constitutionally. Regulating all clinics and including the abortion facility is not something the North Dakota legislature and the state's medical community is interested in pursuing.

Restricting funds going to organizations that provide abortions

Many states, like North Dakota, prohibit state funds from going to entities that provide abortions. But what about prohibiting funds from going to an organization that indirectly, such as through an affiliate, provides abortion, abortion counseling, or abortion referrals? Missouri has such a law and has successfully defended it in court.

Why doesn't North Dakota have such a law? Well, for one thing, it is not needed. A close look at Missouri's statute reveals that the restriction applies only to the state money expended for family planning services. In other words, the restriction applies to a particular use of state funds and is not a general ban on all types of state funding. North Dakota, however, does not provide any state funding for family planning. So, in once sense, it is doing one step better than Missouri.

Pro-Life license plates

Several states allow drivers to purchase pro-life license plates. They typically display “Choose Life,” and a small portion of the fees paid for the plates goes to abortion alternative programs, such as adoption services.

There is no reason why North Dakota could not have such license plates, but the idea has never generated much interest among legislators. Typically, the states that have the plates already had a system in place that allowed specialty plates. Pro-life advocates only had to add the new plates to an existing system. North Dakota has historically frowned on such specialty plates and has only allowed them for special events when the extra money goes to a government effort, as was the case with the Lewis and Clark plates.

Working against all specialty plates in North Dakota is the question of volume. Unlike large states, the number of plates that might be purchased would be so low that the the extra fee needed would discourage purchasing the special plates. Finally, advocates for pro-life license plates must accept that, in some cases, states have had to allow pro-abortion plates as well.

Prohibition on funding for embryonic stem-cell research

While some states are throwing the taxpayer's money at destructive embryo research, a few states and the federal government prohibit funding for such activities. Why doesn't North Dakota ban funding? The answer is simple – North Dakota does not allow embryonic stem cell research or its companion procedure of human cloning. There is no reason to pass a funding ban.

School Vouchers

The Supreme Court has concluded that school voucher programs do not violate the U.S. Constitution and some states have established voucher programs. Why has not North Dakota? For one thing, voucher systems cost money. The state essentially has to add money to the existing system since it would be funding the education for more children. Unfortunately, there is a strong feeling among legislators that any additional money for education belongs entirely to the public schools.

Also, while vouchers do not violate the U.S. Constitution, there remain questions as to whether a voucher system would violate the state constitution. North Dakota's constitution has what is called a “Blaine Amendment” which was purposely designed to prevent religious schools, especially Catholic schools, from receiving any state aid.