N.D. ‘personhood’ measure raises concerns about broader healthcare effects
A type of “personhood” amendment North Dakotans will vote on Nov. 4 could have broad ramifications for healthcare in that state.
Voters will decide whether to adopt a seemingly simple amendment to the state’s constitution. “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected,” reads the ballot measure.
Measure 1 was originally viewed as an anti-abortion measure. But opponents say it could insert the government into crucial decisions about medical care because its unusually broad language could apply to end-of-life care and other types of treatments.
“Its effect will be unprecedented, wide-ranging and unpredictable,” wrote Steven Morrison, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Dakota.
He and other critics of the measure warn that providers of in-vitro fertilization could be charged with murder, living wills and end-of-life directives could be invalidated, and the government could be forced to provide lifesustaining treatment to every resident of the state no matter their condition.
Supporters, including Catholic groups, say Measure 1 is simply an “iron dome” to protect laws already on the books.
A legal analysis drafted by supporters said that the state already has laws regulating end-of-life care and that those have been upheld as constitutional.
North Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature voted in 2013 to place Measure 1 on the ballot. It was part of a number of anti-abortion bills that were enacted that year.
But a “fetal heartbeat” law, which could prohibit abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, was invalidated by a federal judge.
Measure 1 is similar to “personhood” amendments that have been considered in other states. Those measures generally would extend constitutional or statutory protections to life starting at the embryonic stage.
Personhood amendments have been rejected by voters in every state where they have been on the ballot, including Mississippi.