Measure 1 Protects North Dakota Way of Life
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
September 2014

Gallup recently concluded a comprehensive survey of all 50 states on a variety of indicators, including economics, public affairs, education, the environment, and well-being. The result: North Dakota ranks first among the states on almost every measurement. The findings come as no surprise. Other surveys show North Dakotans giving high ranks to the North Dakota legislature and other elected officials.

Democrat or Republican, this is mostly good news for the state’s incumbents. With approval ratings that high, voters are unlikely to remove sitting lawmakers. A consistent rule in politics is that people don’t like to rock the boat when the boat appears to be on the right course.

Despite the will of the people, however, the “boat” can be rocked, forced to change direction, or even capsized by the courts. Recognition of this real threat to North Dakota’s success and way of life is why a bipartisan majority of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly put Measure 1 on the ballot.

Measure 1 is an amendment to the state constitution. It states: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

The state’s elected lawmakers put Measure 1 on the ballot in response to a court decision by a local judge in Fargo. That judge struck down a reasonable safety regulation on the use of abortion-inducing drugs on the grounds that the North Dakota Constitution contains a “right to abortion” that is so broad that even laws upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court would be found unconstitutional under the state constitution.

The judge’s “reasoning” is that the “liberty clause” of the state constitution means that a woman can abort her child without any meaningful oversight by the state to protect her health and safety or, where possible, the life of the unborn child. That portion of the North Dakota Constitution states: “All individuals are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty . . .”

Most people reading this may ask why the right to life in the same sentence does not prevent this kind of ruling. Apparently, the judge did not think that the right to life applied to every life. For that reason, legislators responded with Measure 1, which would document what we had always thought - that the existing right to life applies to every human being at any stage of development.

The defeat of Measure 1 would have devastating consequences for our state. It would mean that courts could decide that this expansive “liberty” right trumps the right to life, especially for the unborn, disabled, and depressed. For abortion advocates from places like New York and California, this is exactly what they want. They have already established expansive rights to abortions in about a dozen states, but never one based on a liberty clause - something every state constitution possesses. For them, what the judge in Fargo gave them was the ultimate prize - a road map for securing an almost unlimited right to abortion in every state.

Montana illustrates what happens when state courts are given free reign to create abortion rights. The courts in Montana have struck down popular laws limiting taxpayer funding for abortions, requiring parental notice prior to a minor undergoing an abortion, requiring a 24-hour reflection period prior to an abortion, informed consent requirements, and even a law requiring that only a licensed physician perform an abortion. But it does not stop there. A judge in Montana has concluded that the “right to abortion” found in the state constitution also provides a right to assisted suicide.

Surveys show that a majority of North Dakotans are pro-life. Perhaps most Montanans are as well. The difference between North Dakota and Montana is that abortion advocates were allowed to use the courts to block common-sense pro-life laws to protect unborn children, the sick and dying, and women’s health and safety.

These laws are part of the social fabric which build the culture of life in North Dakota. They are part of what makes North Dakota such a great place to live. Let’s stop outside interests groups from destroying what North Dakotans have created. Let’s pass Measure 1 this November.