BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Efforts to give North Dakota voters a chance to repeal three of the state's strict new anti-abortion laws are falling short of signature goals, organizers say, in part because of a lack of support from women's groups, which say they prefer to fight the restrictions in court.
The measures are among four that the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple approved this year that would make North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation to get an abortion. Each of the three petitions seeking to put measures up for a statewide vote ballot needs at least 13,452 valid signatures from North Dakota voters.
"I don't think we're going to have enough signatures by the Monday midnight deadline," Gary Hangsleben told The Associated Press on Friday. "I think we'll be 2,000 or 3,000 short."
Hangsleben, a Grand Forks truck driver, said he is opposed to abortion but believes North Dakota residents should have the opportunity to vote on the new laws. He said one last push for petition signatures would be made over the weekend.
One of the measures Hangsleben is seeking to put up for a vote would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected and before some women know they are pregnant. Another would prohibit women from having an abortion because a fetus has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. A third would require a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.
Abortion-rights advocates said the measures are an attempt to close the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo. Supporters of the so-called fetal heartbeat measure said it's a challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
A fourth measure, signed by Dalrymple in April, would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point a fetus can feel pain. Hangsleben said that law isn't part of the referral drive because it was signed by the governor after the signatures already were being sought on the three petitions.
Abortion-rights advocates have promised a legal fight to block the restrictions before they take effect Aug. 1.
"I think it's a better venue to take it back to the courts," said Renee Stromme, executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network. "If we take it to the ballot, will it make any difference? Legislators and anti-abortion groups will just bring it back up when the Legislature meets again."
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, agreed.
"Constitutional rights are not up for a popular vote," she said. "It's important to hammer these out in the courts. This will affect other states, not just North Dakota."
Hangsleben said about 70 percent of his group of about 300 people that has been collecting petition signatures in Bismarck, Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo support abortion rights. The rest oppose abortion, he said.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has said it is committed to challenging the fetal heartbeat bill on behalf of the clinic. The New York-based group represented the clinic for free in an April over a 2011 law banning the widely accepted use of a medication that induces abortion. A judge has said he will allow the clinic to combine that lawsuit with new litigation over the law requiring hospital-admitting privileges.
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