What happens in North Dakota’s legal system if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

Abortion laws
Abortion laws(MGN)
Published: May. 3, 2022 at 6:36 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - If Roe v. Wade is overturned, North Dakota has trigger laws in place that could automatically outlaw abortions in the state, if implemented by the Attorney General. If the state assumes regulation of the procedure, the courts could feel the impact.

Abortion is currently legal in North Dakota prior to 20 weeks and is strictly regulated. Changes to Roe v. Wade could further tighten North Dakota’s approach to the issue.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley said he will not discuss a leaked draft opinion from the high court that has not yet been put to a vote, but stated:

“My staff and I are evaluating existing North Dakota law which contains trigger mechanisms that may be implicated by the court’s eventual decision. There is no way for me to speculate on that now. When a decision does come down, my office will implement North Dakota law as we are legally mandated to do.”

If the decision is overturned, it would fall to the local state’s attorneys to prosecute abortion cases as class C felonies, putting abortion on the level of negligent homicide and perjury.

Attorneys say a law like this wouldn’t exist in a vacuum, and the effects could play a role in other areas of the legal system.

“There’s always been a tension between abortion laws and other criminal laws anyway. [A new law on the books] opens the door to various defenses, and they may go over into some of the things mentioned, like sexual assault, like rape, it’s hard to say how they would all fit together,” said Deb Carpenter, retired attorney.

To illustrate her point that abortion laws bleed into other criminal laws, Carpenter notes that in California, there’s precedent for charging a person who kills a pregnant woman with two separate murders.

Attorneys don’t think there would be an uptick in prosecutions immediately. They say some people might travel to another state to have an abortion.

Rape, incest, preventing the death of the pregnant woman, or select medical emergencies would still be considered legal defenses for having an abortion under the trigger law.

At this time, abortion remains legal in North Dakota under federal law. For more information on North Dakota’s current regulations on abortion see Chapter 14-02.1 of the North Dakota Century Code.

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