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Published April 07, 2011, 11:38 AM

ND Senate Tables Abortion Restrictions

Legislation that sought to ban most abortions in North Dakota was defeated Thursday when state senators endorsed a procedural gambit that allowed the measure's opponents to avoid taking a recorded vote.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Legislation that sought to ban most abortions in North Dakota was defeated Thursday when state senators endorsed a procedural gambit that allowed the measure's opponents to avoid taking a recorded vote.

The move prompted an impassioned objection from Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, who referred to it as a "premeditated political maneuver" before Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who presides over the Senate's daily floor sessions, ruled her remarks violated Senate rules.

An attempt to reopen the debate later fell six votes short of the two-thirds majority that was needed.

The legislation defined a fertilized egg as a human being and said anyone who damaged or killed a fertilized egg could be prosecuted for murder or assault. It included exceptions for some medical and fertility treatments and for abortions of pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Sitte asked that the rape and incest exception be removed from the legislation.

"Whether or not someone was conceived by rape or incest, or conceived in love, does not determine the value of that individual," Sitte said. "Life has value, no matter how it begins."

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, opposed removing the exception, saying it "was about balancing the rights of an existing, living woman, who has been subjected to one of the most horrific crimes known to mankind, against the rights of a newly fertilized egg."

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, who explained the bill's provisions before the debate began, then asked that it be tabled, a request that cannot be debated according to Senate rules.

Sitte's request for a recorded vote on Olafson's motion was disregarded. Senators voted 28-19 to table the measure, but only the vote total showed on the Senate's electronic voting board, and the votes of individual members were not recorded.

Later, Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River, asked that the Senate's decision to table the bill be reconsidered. In a recorded vote, 26 senators supported reopening debate on the legislation, short of the 32 votes — a two-thirds majority — that was needed to succeed.

Afterward, Sitte pointed out that the state constitution guarantees any legislator the right to ask for "a recorded vote on any question" if one-sixth of the senators present — in her case, eight senators — supported the request.

Sitte called the process "demeaning."

"The citizens of North Dakota deserve to know where we stand on this issue," she said.

Olafson defended the request, saying it was "completely within Senate rules."

Although the tactic is rarely used, the tabling of legislation has been employed in earlier sessions to quickly dispose of contentious legislation.

In 2001, legislation intended to block rural electric cooperatives from getting new customers within North Dakota's largest cities was tabled in the Senate just as debate was beginning. The bill's Senate hearing had drawn hundreds of rural electric cooperative supporters.

The abortion bill was HB1450.

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