Building a Sanctuary for Life

By Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
December 2022

The United States Supreme Court decided the Dobbs case on June 24 of this year. The decision restored the ability of states to prohibit and regulate abortion. At the time I am writing this column, North Dakota’s laws banning abortion are still caught up in the courts.

As I have written before, however, banning abortion alone has never been the goal of the Catholic Church or the pro-life movement. Our goal is to create a society where abortion is unthinkable. We must, therefore, move forward with love-inspired action to make that happen.

It starts in our families, businesses, communities, and churches. Catholic parishes across the state have taken action inspired by
Walking with Moms in Need, a program launched by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that encourages parishes to support local pregnancy centers and provide resources to pregnant and parenting women.

The USCCB also called on Congress to enact legislation that reflects a “radical solidarity” with mothers, babies (born and unborn), and families. Its recommendations include labor protections for pregnant and nursing women, support for pregnancy resource centers, the Child Tax Credit, parental leave policies, adoption support, and an end to marriage penalties.

The North Dakota legislature, which reconvenes in January, must also move forward with legislation reflecting our love for all pregnant women, their children, new mothers, and families.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference makes the following proposals for the next legislative session:

  • Expand the Alternatives to Abortion Program. This program provides limited funding to pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes. Currently, the program only provides assistance to women who are pregnant or think they are pregnant. It does not cover women after they give birth or their infants. The program also does not cover health care services, such as ultrasounds. The legislature should fix both of these omissions and greatly increase the program’s funding. Compared to other programs in the state, the program is substantially underfunded.

  • Enact a sales tax exemption for infant diapers. Did you know that adult diapers are exempt from sales tax in North Dakota, but not infant diapers? Both South Dakota and Minnesota do not tax infant diapers. North Dakota should do the same.

  • Provide a child car seat sales tax exemption. Like diapers, child car seats are a necessary item. Other states have signaled their support for children and families by enacting a child car seat sales tax exemption. For safety and children, North Dakota should do the same.

  • Give protection to pregnant workers. North Dakota law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. For some reason, however, the law does not provide similar protections for conditions related to childbirth or miscarriage.

  • Establish a life resources website. North Dakota should have a one-stop site with links to pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes, government programs, and other resources. South Dakota launched one immediately after Dobbs.

  • Update the Medicaid program. During the 2021 special session, the legislature chose to provide coverage to postpartum women for twelve months. The legislation, however, expires next July. The legislature should make the care permanent. The state should also make a small adjustment in the program to ensure that legal residents who are not yet citizens — at least those who are pregnant — receive needed coverage. After all, their unborn children will be citizens at birth. We should ensure that they receive health care before birth.

  • Make adjustments to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. This program assists the poorest pregnant women and families. But it does not provide help until the mother is in her third trimester. The program also penalizes large families. The state should remove these incentives to seek an abortion.

  • Create a tax credit for donations to pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and adoption agencies. The state should encourage charitable contributions to these organizations that comprise an important part of the culture of life.

  • Restore the adoption tax credit. For years, North Dakota provided a tax credit to individuals who adopted children. The credit disappeared in 2009 as part of a rewrite of the tax code. Now is the time to restore it.

  • Cover the cost of an adoption home inspection. Another way we can reduce the cost of adoption is to have the state cover a part of the adoption process that it requires, such as the required home inspection. This is an unfunded mandate that falls on the adoption agencies like Catholic Charities, which must either pass on the cost to adopting parents or find the money elsewhere.

This list is not exclusive. The conference encourages legislators to tackle other issues that impact pregnant women, unborn children, and families, such as the childcare crisis in the state and any tax marriage penalties. Some issues could be addressed in other ways. We hope, however, that the list provides an essential foundation for the state’s contribution to making North Dakota a sanctuary for life.

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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