When it comes to the issue of life and the unborn, the recently completed 65th Legislative Assembly was silent. Or was it? There was one bill – House Bill 1292 – that may well be the bill that almost nobody knew about. There was no major debate on it. It didn’t make headlines. And it most certainly wasn’t a topic of conversation at the local coffee shops.
HB 1292, or the Fetal Loss Bill, not only passed the House (92 – 0) and the Senate (38 – 8), but it was signed into law by Governor Doug Burgum on March 23rd. The only opposition the bill received was in the Senate where the Human Services Committee gave it a Do Not Pass recommendation and Senator Judy Lee (R – District 13) carried it to the floor and made her attempt to have the bill defeated.
I have it from a very reliable source that once it became known that the Senate Human Services Committee gave the bill a Do Not Pass there was a coordinated effort by Senator Oley Larsen (R – District 3) to recruit votes in favor of it– prior to its coming to the floor. The effort included the understanding that those favoring the bill would not rise to debate it.
And it worked. Senator Lee carried the bill to the floor and bloviated about all the reasons the bill should be defeated (Note: I won’t go over them here. Watch the video if you’re interested.). When the call came for further discussion; silence filled the room, the vote was taken, and the bill easily passed.
So, what is HB 1292? It defines "Miscarriage of Birth" as:
"… the expulsion of a fetus from the womb, spontaneously or as a result of an accident, before twenty weeks gestation." (Emphasis Added)
And with this definition in place, it allows the state registrar to:
"… issue a certified copy of a fetal loss to an individual who experiences a documented miscarriage of birth, if the individual provides to the state registrar a completed fetal loss request form established by the state department of health which is signed by the mother or the father and a letter signed by a hospital, physician, or other medical attendant documenting proof of pregnancy and fetal loss."
Prior to passage of this legislation, fetal loss certificates were only issued for miscarriages at 20 weeks and beyond. The bill came into existence at the request of a couple who had lost a baby at 19 weeks and 5 days – just two days short of the 20 week requirement – and were denied the ability to have a certificate issued.
North Dakota is, for the most part, considered a pro-life state. And while we’ve had some successes when it comes to pro-life legislation, we’ve had disappointment too. Just last year the Supreme Court upheld a lower courts ruling that North Dakota could not enforce its fetal heartbeat law.
I believe the fact that our legislature passed this bill was a message from some legislators that many of us in North Dakota still believe a fetus is a life… a human life. And that the loss of such a life should be permitted to be recognized like those lost at 20 weeks and beyond. Yes, indeed, while the bill dealt with the tragedy of unborn death, passage of it was a recognition of life.