Here's the governor! (Dale Wetzel/ File, Associated Press)
Here’s the governor! (Dale Wetzel/ File, Associated Press)

I’m confused.

A study published Thursday by the George Mason University’s Mercatus Center lists North Dakota as the most free state in the nation, based on criteria that measured personal freedom, economic freedom, and regulatory and fiscal policy. The state scored high on economic criteria and above average on personal freedom, although it had room for improvement.

Simultaneously, this week, North Dakota passed the country’s most restrictive abortion law, banning abortions after as few as six weeks. In November, residents will get to vote on a fetal personhood amendment. And the governor has signed another bill imposing the requirement that any doctors performing abortions obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, an oddly specific requirement that seems targeted to close the state’s sole abortion clinic, in Fargo. (“The added requirement that the hospital privileges must include allowing abortions to take place in their facility greatly increases the chances that this measure will face a court challenge,” noted the governor in his press release on the subject. “Nevertheless, it is a legitimate and new question for the courts regarding a precise restriction on doctors who perform abortions.”)

But hey, it’s tied for No. 1 when it comes to helmet laws! Freedom!

North Dakota has a lot to recommend it, if your priorities are things like Limited Regulation. Fiscally, it ranks high. But if you like the idea of being able to control your own body or not having to spend lots of state money to fund costly legal challenges to Roe V. Wade, you are less lucky.

This intersection always baffles me. This conservatism seems to be on a collision course with itself — keep your hands off my wallet, but my body? Well, depends. Am I a motorcyclist or a woman?

As state legislator Kathy Hawken told the Huffington Post, “North Dakota hasn’t even passed a primary seat-belt law, but we have the most invasive attack on women’s health anywhere.”

In fact, on the freedom rankings, the very Freedom From Seat-Belt Laws that Hawken cites as a negative helped improve North Dakota’s rankings. You are free to do whatever you like with your body — no motorcycle helmet once you turn 18, no bicycle helmet at any age, can’t be pulled over for failing to wear a safety belt (wouldn’t want to restrict what you can do with your arms while driving), no “Happy Hour” laws — unless, of course, you’re a woman. Then, forget it! You’re not a person! You’re a person-carrier! You no longer have any choice in the matter and must carry it to term so that there will be one more North Dakotan to ride around helmetless on a bicycle and suffer no legal penalties for doing so.

Someone needs to sit down with me and explain freedom again, because I’m missing something. North Dakota clearly prioritizes it in so many areas. Freedom is something you definitely have with regard to your wallet, but it stops at the point when you become a woman who wants to exert any control over your body. I guess? I am not sure I understand the big fuss about protecting fetuses. Some of those fetuses might turn out to be women.

Hawken continued: “We’re spending an inordinate amount of time on social or personal issues, however you want to put it, but we haven’t done anything on property tax relief, higher education funding, fixing the roads. There are all kinds of other things we need to be doing besides this.”

The governor even acknowledges that the recently signed abortion ban is probably unconstitutional and urges the setting aside of funds for a lengthy and costly legal challenge to Roe V. Wade.

I guess fiscal conservatism only applies up to a point. Roads? Too expensive. Child care? Unnecessary expenditure. Fighting Roe V. Wade, tooth and nail, on a national level? Priceless! Spare no expense! This is what freedom means. As I said, I’m confused.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.