Eye on the States: North Dakota Abortion Ban
Last week, we began the seven week-long process of counting the omer – a ritual in which we count every day from Pesach, when the Israelites were freed from Egypt, to Shavuot, when the Israelites received the Torah. There are many reasons for and interpretations of the omer, but in a lot of ways, it really comes down to the passage of time, and how we count and notice time in our own lives.
For a woman who is pregnant, the passage of time, and of weeks in particular, is especially present. The answer to “how far along are you?” is often given in weeks, as are critical milestones along the 9 month (36 week) process. One important milestone that has been translated into public policy is “viability” – the stage at which a fetus could survive outside of the womb. This is the standard employed in Roe v. Wade to determine when abortions are or are not acceptable – Roe legalized abortion until the fetus was viable, generally between 22 to 24 weeks into the pregnancy (although viability itself is admittedly a constantly moving target as technologies change and adapt).
Yet in a questionably legal move at the end of last month, North Dakota politicians introduced a new and much stricter metric. HB1456, which was signed into law just last week, requires physicians to determine whether there’s a detectable heartbeat prior to performing an abortion. Performing an abortion willingly after a heartbeat has been detected will now, under this new law, be considered a felony. This can happen as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, making North Dakota the most restrictive state in terms of abortion access in the country.
It takes seven full weeks for the Israelites to spiritually ready themselves to receive the Torah. It takes longer than that for many women to even realize that they are pregnant, let alone learn the necessary information and go through the personal and emotional processes of deciding whether or not an abortion is right for her or her family. As we continue to count the omer, let us think about the ramifications of noting the passage of time in this way, and about how time works – or doesn’t work – to help our development and advancement, emotionally or spiritually.