Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • N.D. lawmakers push for statewide vote on abortion

  • Gary Hangsleben said more than 300 people from across North Dakota have volunteered to collect signatures for the referendum petitions.
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  • A Grand Forks truck driver opposed to abortion said Wednesday that he is collecting signatures seeking to give voters an opportunity to repeal North Dakota's strict new abortion laws.
    Gary Hangsleben said more than 300 people from across North Dakota have volunteered to collect signatures for the referendum petitions.
    "I'm pro-life, pro-family and I'm anti-abortion" Hangsleben said. "I just think the people of North Dakota should have some input."
    But officials from two of the state's biggest abortion-rights groups said they haven't been contacted nor are they interested in supporting the effort.
    "We have no ambition or interest in referrals," said Renee Stromme, executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network. "Individuals get to make their own choice."
    Secretary of State Al Jaeger said his office received the requests for petitions Tuesday afternoon from Hangsleben, who is listed as chairman of the yet-unnamed sponsoring committee.
    Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed abortion bills last week that would make North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation to get the procedure. One measure would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. Another would prohibit women from having an abortion because a fetus has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome.
    A third measure would require a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.
    Abortion-rights advocates say the measures are an attempt to close the state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo. Supporters of the so-called fetal heartbeat measure say 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.
    The North Dakota measures are slated to take effect Aug. 1 and abortion rights advocates have promised a legal fight to block the restrictions before then.
    Jaeger's office has until April 11 to approve titles for the three petitions, and each needs at least 13,452 valid signatures from North Dakota voters to qualify for a statewide vote. The deadline to gather the signatures is June 24.
    Hangsleben, who also heads a nonprofit counseling service for fathers and their children, said he's hopeful enough signatures can be gathered by the deadline. He said the petitions were drafted by Roland Riemers, chairman of the North Dakota Libertarian Party and the party's former candidate for governor.
    The North Dakota Supreme Court in February upheld a state court ruling that Riemers didn't qualify for the ballot because his lieutenant governor candidate didn't turn in the right paperwork.
    Riemers and Hangsleben also were involved in a lawsuit against former lieutenant governor and newspaper columnist Lloyd Omdahl over a ballot proposal.
    Riemers, Hangsleben and two other plaintiffs said in their lawsuit that Omdahl's column on a shared parenting initiative was defamatory. Omdahl wrote in his column that the initiative "has got to be the worst initiated measure to be proposed in 68 years."
    Page 2 of 2 - A district judge ruled in 2007 that the comments in the column were not defamatory to the plaintiffs but were directed toward the measure.
    Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo who introduced the so-called fetal heatbeat bill and the bill banning abortions based on a genetic defect, said she welcomed a statewide vote on the abortion legislation.
    "Go for it," Grande said. "North Dakota is a pro-life state and had been pro-life since territorial days."
    Dalrymple released a statement calling the referendum process "an important right held by the voters of North Dakota" but didn't address the specific petitions.
    North Dakota lawmakers also moved last month to outlaw abortion in the state by passing a resolution defining life as starting at conception, essentially banning abortion in the state. The measure is likely to come before voters in November 2014.
    Jennifer Aulwes, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said that measure is priority with her group, along with any litigation that arises from North Dakota's new laws.
    "Right now, that's got to be our focus," she said.
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