Was Measure 1's Defeat Really About Abortion?


With Measure 1’s failure on North Dakota’s statewide ballot, and the defeat of two outspoken proponents of pro-life legislation in the Legislature, many are claiming that election day was a victory against the pro-life movement in North Dakota. They say it was a referendum on the Legislature and pro-life movements supposed preoccupation with restricting abortion.

But can that be true when the opponents of Measure 1 spent so little time talking about abortion? Can it be true when the Democrats who defeated state Senator Margaret Sitte in Bismarck, and Rep. Bette Grande in Fargo, kept abortion out of their campaign platforms?

SAB contributor Matt Evans had some thoughtful things to say about Measure 1 taking generally pro-life North Dakota voters out of their comfort zone. I think he’s sort of right, but what made voters uncomfortable wasn’t the issue of abortion.

It was odd to me that Democrat Erin Oban, who ran the most expensive legislative campaign in the state in 2014, didn’t mention abortion at all in her advertising. It was odd when the League of Women Voters debate between Oban and Sitte didn’t feature any discussion on the abortion issue.

There’s no question the abortion issue was a big reason why Oban challenged Sitte. Yet, abortion wasn’t part of the campaign.

Democrat Pamela Anderson didn’t make abortion a part of her campaign against incumbent Republicans Al Carlson and Bette Grande in District 41 either. Instead Anderson, who got the most votes on the ballot, focused on Carlson and Grande’s record on taxes (oil, property, etc.).

As for Measure 1, the complaints about that constitutional amendment from opponents had nothing to do with abortion. The opponents, smartly it turns out, for the most part chose not to complain that Measure 1 would ban abortion. In fact, their own experts specifically acknowledged that Measure 1 would not ban abortion. Instead, the narrative about Measure 1 was that it would criminalize IVF treatments or certain end-of-life decisions.

I don’t think this was true, but for most voters the tactic proved effective.

But how do you extrapolate from two legislative campaigns and one initiated measure campaign, all of which largely avoided the abortion issue, that the success of those campaigns was a blow to the pro-life cause?

I don’t think you can, and those claiming otherwise are engaged in some historical revisionism.