North Dakota likely to cool on abortion after voters reject measure, oust outspoken lawmakers

North Dakota's Republican-led and largely anti-abortion Legislature retained a supermajority on Election Day, but lawmakers probably don't have the appetite to undertake additional measures to further curb the procedure any time soon, legislative leaders said Wednesday.

Voters on Tuesday rejected by a nearly 2-to-1 margin a constitutional amendment that opponents feared was meant to outlaw abortions altogether. Voters also booted the most vocal anti-abortion lawmakers in North Dakota: Margaret Sitte, a freshman GOP senator from Bismarck, who sponsored the measure, and Bette Grande, a longtime Republican representative from Fargo.

Despite those losses, Republicans kept two-thirds control of both the House and Senate and extended a more than 20-year lock on most top elected offices. Lawmakers last session passed some of the nation's strictest abortion laws, including one sponsored by Grande that bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

But Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said it appears that the outcome of Tuesday's election was a message from the North Dakota electorate that it prefers lawmakers deal with more pressing issues facing the newly oil-rich red state, where a population boom has put unprecedented pressure on infrastructure and social services.

"People probably do think there are other things we need to look at," Wardner said. "We need to make sure we take care of all of our priorities."

Wardner doesn't expect any abortion-related legislation to surface during the legislative session, which begins in January.

"I think we took a look at all the issues in the last session," he said.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks called Tuesday's election "a lesson in humility for the Legislature" and agreed with Wardner that priority must be given to roads, schools, public works, law enforcement and other social services.

"Time is limited to 80 days during the session," Schneider said. "We need to spend that time addressing needs, not wasting a lot of time burning off oxygen on personal agendas."