By Sarah Stoesz, President, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund
On November 4th, voters in North Dakota made history when they made it the third state in the nation to decisively reject a "personhood" amendment and, with it, the extreme agenda of the personhood movement. The road to this victory was long, but it was also remarkable. Many North Dakotans, from all walks of life, traveled the road together and left no doubt about what a committed group of individuals can accomplish together — even in the face of great opposition. It also left no doubt as to where the people of this country, even in the most conservative states, stand on this issue.
Proponents of this measure made it clear from the beginning their intent was to end access to safe and legal abortion. Measure 1 would have also gone much farther. It would have forced in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics in North Dakota to close their doors, forced families struggling with end-of-life decisions to answer to the government and put a total ban on abortion, with no exceptions, in place. This was the anti-women’s health agenda we were up against.
The wide range of harmful consequences convinced many courageous North Dakotans — doctors, religious leaders, patients, families, judges, lawyers, domestic violence and sexual assault advocates and hospice care workers — to defeat the measure.
Dr. Stephanie Dahl, one of three reproductive endocrinologists in North Dakota, came forward because Measure 1 would have made it impossible to offer IVF at her clinic in Fargo (the only IVF center in the state). Medical students from the University of North Dakota also expressed concerns that Measure 1 could worsen the physician shortage in the state.
The measure also activated women from across the political spectrum. U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D - N.D.) issued a strong letter of opposition to the measure. In addition, GOP women in the state published a letter-to-the-editor proclaiming, “As lifelong Republicans, we fundamentally believe that individuals — not the government — are responsible for their actions and have the right to make decisions about their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Measure 1 contradicts our principles of individual freedom and responsibility.”
Parents who have struggled with difficult decisions during pregnancy also spoke up. Becky Matthews of Bismarck recalled her family’s devastating loss of twin girls seven years ago and urged voters to reject Measure 1 because, had it been in place during her pregnancy, she and her husband would have been left with no options to consider at all. Even though her options — all of which put either herself or her twins in danger — were not options she expected or wanted, they were at least hers to consider.
Countless others came forward as well. These are the heroes who defeated this atrocious constitutional amendment. North Dakotans — and all of us — are in their debt.
This serves as a reminder to all of us — especially to legislators across the country, even in the most conservative of states — when you put the personhood agenda in front of voters and have a conversation with them about the consequences, they will reject it. That’s because these measures are extreme and don’t reflect the complexity of people’s lives or values. Legislators and our new U.S. Congress would do well to heed this lesson.