To: House Human Services Committee
Subject: SB 2303 Protection of Unborn Life
Date: March 13, 2013

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports SB 2303 as a means of closing some loopholes in the protection of human life in North Dakota law.

Much of the controversy surrounding SB 2303 stems from a lack of understanding about the bill itself and existing law. Let’s start with the bill itself. While it may look expansive, SB 2303 is quite limited. It basically only includes human beings within the definition of “person” in Title 12 of the North Dakota Century Code. At the outset, therefore, we can dispose of claims that this is a “personhood” bill that grants all legal rights to “fertilized eggs.” Indeed, as we will see, SB 2303 is very limited in its scope.

To understand the limited scope of SB 2303 it helps to look at existing law. Existing law already makes it a crime to kill or assault an unborn human being. (Chapter 12.1-17.1) Three exceptions apply to this prohibition. They are:

(a) If an embryo1 is killed or harmed in vitro;
(b) Abortion; and
(c) If an embryo is killed or harmed in utero but before implantation.

SB 2303 closes gaps (a) and (b). The exceptions on page 5, lines 25-26, and page 6, lines 17-18, clearly leave intact any “contraception” that might kill or harm the nascent human life prior to implantation.

North Dakota law, therefore, already has protection for human life from the moment of conception. SB 2303 would merely close two gaps in that protection.

But SB 2303 is even more limited than that. The exceptions on pages 5 and 6 of the bill exempt from criminal penalties:

• Medical treatment for life-threatening conditions that resulted in the accidental or unintentional injury or death of another person;
• Medical treatment for life-threatening conditions in pregnancy;
• Standard handling of embryos created through vitro fertilization;
• The disposal or destruction of embryos that are not viable; and
• Contraception.In addition, it does not penalize the mother in cases of abortion.

What, then, does SB 2303 do?

With regards to embryos existing outside the womb, SB 2303 only prevents the intentional, reckless, or negligent destruction of healthy human embryos that otherwise could come to full term. In this respect, SB 2303 mirrors what has been the law in Louisiana since the 1986 and IFV is available in that state.2 IVF does not require the destruction of healthy embryos and incidental harm caused by standard medical care is protected in the bill. Practitioners of IVF, therefore, have no reason to oppose SB 2303 unless they are seeking an unfettered right to cause harm and destruction to healthy human embryos.

Despite this, opponents claim that SB 2303 would cripple fertility treatments in North Dakota. The bill’s sponsors and now the Senate have poured over the bill and have attempted to address their concerns. At this point, it is not enough to allege that the bill would interfere with infertility practices. It is incumbent upon those with concerns to point out with specificity what, other than the non-accidental destruction of healthy human embryos, is not exempted in the bill and offer language to address those concerns.

With regards to abortion, SB 2303 would prohibit elective abortions not needed to treat life-threatening conditions. Claims have been made that the bill will not allow for treatment of ectopic pregnancies, molar pregnancies, and life-threatening conditions. Again, at this point, it is not enough to allege that the bill would interfere treating life-threatening conditions. It is incumbent upon those with concerns to point out with specificity how the exemption does not suffice and offer language to address those concerns.3

To summarize, SB 2303 would only (1) prohibit the non-accidental destruction of healthy human embryos and (2) prohibit abortion except when it is treatment for a life-threatening condition.

Finally, we have heard misleading statements regarding the constitutionality of SB 2303. SB 2303, as applied to abortion, certainly faces a legal hurdle. Courts, however, are not supposed to strike down statutes in the entirety. Rather, they can only prevent enforcement as applied. As applied to the protection of embryos outside the womb, the abortion decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court do not apply. If they did, Louisiana’s statute would have been struck down long ago. Therefore, even if enforcement of SB 2303 as applied to abortion is enjoined by a court, enforcement of the law as applied to in vitro embryos could still stand. Claims that SB 2303 is “blatantly unconstitutional” are unfounded and misleading.

Turning to Sections 4 and 5 of the bill, the conference expresses its support for those provisions and asks that the committee retain them.

Our approach to health care is shaped by a simple but fundamental principle:

“Every person has a right to adequate health care. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image of God.”

For this reason the Catholic bishops of the United States have since 1917 consistently and persistently called for access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all in a manner that respects human life and religious freedom. When it comes to ensuring health care, pregnant women are certainly among those who should receive our priority. Sections 4 and 5 of the bill are consistent with this principle.

We urge a Do Pass recommendation on SB 2303.

1 The embryonic stage exists from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, to about eight weeks. For purposes of this testimony “embryo” refers to all the embryonic stages of development.
2 Opponents of SB 2303 have claimed that Louisiana’s law is not a criminal statute, but the type of penalty is irrelevant to their claim that SB 2303 would ban IVF procedures. Louisiana’s law, like SB 2303, prohibits the destruction of healthy human embryos.
3 A few other claims warrant attention. Some claim that it will lead women who suffer miscarriages or pregnancy complications to be investigated for homicide, manslaughter or reckless endangerment. Another claim is that the bill would impact medical care for women who require medical intervention during a miscarriage. These claims completely ignore the fact that homicide, manslaughter, and reckless endangerment of unborn children are already crimes and have been so since 1987. SB 2303 does not change that law, which, by the way, has not unleashed a rash of investigations of miscarriages or impacted medical intervention during a miscarriage.