To: House Human Services Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2409 (Abortion Alternatives Services)
Date: March 8, 2005

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports Senate Bill 2409 to create a pregnancy support services program that would enhance efforts to provide counseling and support to women in crisis pregnancies.

Too often, women in crisis pregnancies face their circumstances without someone to comfort and support them as they are forced to make critical decisions about their welfare and the welfare of their babies. We must create as many avenues as possible to inform them of options other than abortion, because we know that these decisions have a profound impact on their families and our communities as a whole.

The purpose of this bill is to promote the wellbeing of North Dakota’s families by increasing the availability of and enhancing the quality of services promoting childbirth rather than abortion for women in crisis pregnancies. The initiative could:

* Foster a statewide pregnancy and parenting support system to provide compassionate, practical alternatives to abortion;
* Improve a woman’s physical and mental well-being during her pregnancy;
* Improve the physical well-being of the unborn child and the newborn; and
* Encourage alternatives to abortion, including adoption, as an option for women who are unable to parent.

A similar program exists in Pennsylvania and has seen encouraging results. Through December 2004, more than 93,000 women in that state, who may have not otherwise been able to access local services, were provided assistance. In fact, it is so successful that 13 other states are seeking to emulate it, the most recent announcement coming from Florida.

Each year, about one in ten North Dakota pregnancies end in abortion and too many of those that, happily, do not, nevertheless result in a newborn with an uncertain future. Behind each of these tragedies is a woman and a set of circumstances that led to that crisis pregnancy, caused her to consider abortion, or hampered her ability to choose the best for the child. Perhaps the most tragic part of the matter is that too often no one was there to hold her hand, talk to her, and help her work through the situation.

Senate Bill 2409 takes a pro-active role by providing women the services they need to keep themselves and their baby healthy while choosing between keeping the child in their family or placing them for adoption. At the same time, it helps further the state’s efforts to reduce the need for economic assistance and child support enforcement, as well as prevent future unplanned pregnancies. Most of all, a pregnancy support services program gives women hope and contributes to the building of a culture of life.

We have looked at this issue for some time, including issues regarding administration, funding, and constitutionality and will try to provide any information the committee requests.