North Dakota governor 'read every letter' on abortion bill

BISMARCK, N.D. — Republican North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Monday that he carefully considered all arguments before signing legislation that makes it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb.

"I read every letter that came in," the first-term governor told The Associated Press when pressed to expand on his approval. He had made no comment last week when he signed the bill into law.

The bill passed easily in the GOP-led Legislature last month. Abortion-rights groups argue that banning the procedure known as dilation and evacuation is unconstitutional because it interferes with private medical decisions.

The bill becomes effective if a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court allows its enforcement. State Health Department data show the procedure has not been reported in North Dakota since 2015, when eight such abortions were performed.

Last month, Burgum signed a bill that requires abortion providers to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions that it's possible they could still have a live birth if they change their mind. Opponents say there is no medically accepted evidence that a drug-induced abortion can be reversed.

Burgum's approval of the legislation marked a victory for anti-abortion advocates who were not certain of his support, given his relative silence on abortion issues in the past.

In his first gubernatorial debate, Burgum did not take a position on abortion, saying he preferred allowing North Dakota residents to vote on abortion issues, instead of the Legislature. After criticism from an opponent, he said in a later debate he would have supported some of the nation's toughest abortion laws passed in North Dakota in 2013, including one that would have banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, something that can happen before a woman knows she is pregnant.

That law never went into effect after the state's lone abortion clinic filed a successful lawsuit. North Dakota spent $326,000 to unsuccessfully defend the law and paid the clinic $245,000 in a settlement.

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