BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Anti-abortion activists hailed Gov. Jack Dalrymple and North Dakota lawmakers Wednesday for passing measures this session that give the state the strictest abortion laws in the U.S.
"The lesson from this state is now echoing from coast to coast," the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of New York-based Priests for Life, told a crowd of more than 400 people outside the snow-covered state Capitol.
Pavone, a Roman Catholic priest nationally known for his anti-abortion activism, said North Dakota and its elected officials have shown "the will to protect the unborn."
"What you have done here assists the whole nation in the protection of unborn children," said an animated Pavone, who wore a watch cap and galoshes as a light snow fell over the crowd. "It is an important thing for our movement."
Dalrymple last month signed a law that bans abortion as early as six weeks, or when a fetal heartbeat is detected, making North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation in which to get the procedure. Dalrymple also signed into law last month other measures that make the state the first to ban abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome and require a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges. The measures also ban abortion based on genetic selection.
The Republican governor on Tuesday also signed into law a measure that outlaws abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point a fetus can feel pain.
North Dakota lawmakers also moved last month to seek a referendum measure defining life as starting at conception, essentially banning abortion in the state. The measure is likely to come before voters in November 2014.
The signed laws are meant to close the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo and to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
Abortion-rights activists say the new laws, which take effect Aug. 1, are unconstitutional and have promised a legal fight.
Pavone said North Dakota is prepared for a legal battle.
"We have fought and we have won and we will continue to win," Pavone told the cheering assemblage that also contained several lawmakers. Dalrymple did not attend the rally.
Organizer Marlo Nelson of Dickinson called the rally "Legislature Appreciation Day."
"We just want to thank them for all their hard work," she said.
Rally-goers were bused in from several cities across the oil-rich state; some held signs that thanked lawmakers by name.
The rally was in sharp contrast to a demonstration last month at the Capitol when hundreds of abortion-rights activists protested the package of anti-abortion measures.
Don Gion, a farmer from Regent, and his wife Bonnie made the 130-mile drive Wednesday in wintry conditions to attend the rally at the Capitol.
"Absolutely, what the Legislature has done is right," Gion said, noting that the state's nearly $2 billion budget surplus is more than adequate to defend the new legislation in court. "We're doing well financially in this state and it's time to step up to the plate and protect the millions of unborn children."
Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/macphersonja .
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