ND judge: 2011 abortion law unconstitutional

July 15, 2013 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A 2011 North Dakota law that outlaws one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions violates the state and U.S. constitutions, a state judge ruled Monday.

After a three-day trial in April, East Central Judge Wickham Corwin said he’d rule in favor of the state’s sole abortion clinic, calling the 2011 state law “simply wrongheaded.” Corwin officially ruled on the case Monday.

“No compelling state interest justifies this infringement ...” Corwin wrote in his 58-page ruling. He already had granted an injunction preventing the law from taking effect.

Autumn Katz, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo with its legal challenges, argued that would essentially eliminate the procedure and illegally restrict abortion rights.

“The judge looked at the facts and the evidence and found the law served no rational state interest and struck it down on that basis,” Katz said.


Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Monday he will appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

“It’s something that the North Dakota Supreme Court has never addressed,” Stenehjem said of defining abortion rights. “This should be ruled on not by one trial judge but by the North Dakota Supreme Court. That’s only appropriate.”

Corwin agreed last month to combine the lawsuit against the 2011 law with one that challenges a new requirement for doctors who perform abortions to obtain hospital-admitting privileges. He has said the 2013 law raises the same “legal and factual matters” as the 2011 legislation.

State attorneys have argued that the cases are “separate and distinct.”

A hearing is slated for July 31 in state district court in Fargo.

North Dakota already has spent more than $52,000 defending the 2011 state law, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. Records show that Dr. Donna Harrison, the president the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has billed the state more than $49,000 to act as an expert witness.

In his ruling Monday, Corwin was highly critical of Harrison, saying her “opinions lack scientific support , tend to be based on unsubstantiated concerns and are generally at odds with solid medical evidence.”

The admitting privileges law was one of four that the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple passed this year, giving North Dakota the nation’s most stringent abortion laws. They are slated to take effect Aug. 1.

Lawmakers who introduced the measures say they want to close the Fargo clinic and challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

The Center for Reproductive Rights last month filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the law banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. It also challenges a new measure that would make North Dakota the only state to prohibit women from having an abortion because a fetus has a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome.


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