North Dakota aims at school curriculum to deter abortions

March 30, 2023

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP)–North Dakota schools would be required to show students high-quality video of how a human fetus develops in each week of pregnancy under a bill Senate lawmakers approved during a vote Wednesday.

The 37-9 vote comes on the heels of the North Dakota Supreme Court’s ruling this month that a state abortion ban will remain blocked while a lawsuit over its constitutionality proceeds.

“If young people see the beauty of these beginnings, then hopefully they’ll think twice before running to the abortion clinic,” Sen. Janne Myrdal, a Republican of Edinburg who helped introduce the bill, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The bill would mandate schools to show middle and high school students a high-definition ultrasound video, at least three minutes long, on the development of the brain, heart and other vital organs in early fetal development — along with a high-quality animation of the fertilization and human development process inside the uterus, “noting significant markers in cell growth and organ development for every week of pregnancy.”

Lawmakers did not explicitly mention abortion when debating the bill on the Senate floor.

Opponents of the bill said they did not want to overstep by telling local schools how to teach, whereas supporters said lawmakers have the right to mandate curriculum in taxpayer-funded institutions.

“Although the video was great, well-intended, I just think we’re opening the door to something that in the future might widen the scope of how we dictate local schools,” Republican Sen. Michelle Axtman, of Bismarck, said in opposition to the bill.

Myrdal countered that state lawmakers already mandate many aspects of school curriculum including sex and abstinence education, Native American history and anti-bullying programs.

Republican Sen. Michael Wobbema, of Valley City, said the bill would not cost schools any money because the content the lawmakers have in mind is already online and free.

The bill was amended in the Senate, so it still needs to gain final approval in the House and a signature from the governor to become law.

Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound around six weeks into a pregnancy in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart.

In Georgia, which has one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion measures, the law prohibits most abortions once there is a “detectable human heartbeat” and effectively bans most abortions at a point before many people know they are pregnant.

Similar so-called heartbeat measures have been considered this year in states including Ohio, South Carolina and Nebraska.