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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks N.D. Law Banning Abortion at Six Weeks

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks N.D. Law Banning Abortion at Six Weeks

July 23, 2013 — Saying it is "invalid and unconstitutional," a federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of a North Dakota law (HB 1456) that prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can occur as early as six weeks, the Dickinson Press reports. The law was scheduled to take effect Aug. 1 (Jerke, Dickinson Press, 7/22).

The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed in June by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic of Fargo (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/26).

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland has allowed the parties in the case 30 days to respond to whether they feel a trial is needed on the issues (Muskal, "Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/22).

State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said North Dakota will ask the court for a trial and already has hired an attorney to help argue the case, explaining, "We have our job to do. We need to convince (Hovland) why the Legislature wanted to enact the law."

Separately, Jeff Zent -- a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) -- refused to comment on the decision. "It's our standing policy not to comment on litigation," he said (AP/Miami Herald, 7/22).

Ruling Details

In his ruling, Hovland explained, "There is no question that (the North Dakota Law) is in direct contradiction to a litany of United States Supreme Court cases addressing restraints on abortion. (It) is clearly an invalid and unconstitutional law based on the United States Supreme Court precedent in Roe v. Wade from 1973 ... and the progeny of cases that have followed" (MacPherson, AP/Miami Herald, 7/22).

Women would have faced "an imminent threat to their ability to exercise the constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy," he wrote. In addition, he argued that "clinic staff would face criminal charges if they continue to run the clinic and provide abortions" and that the clinic itself likely would have to close down "due to lack of patient revenue."

"The threat of criminal prosecution, the potential for the closing of the clinic, and the violation of patient rights is more than sufficient to show a threat of irreparable harm," Hovland concluded.

Hovland also pointed out that the state "failed to demonstrate any benefit to maternal health by banning abortions beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy" (Dickinson Press, 7/22). He added that the state's interest in abortion regulation prior to fetal viability was "not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the women's effective right to elect the procedure."

Plaintiffs React

Bebe Anderson -- director of CRR's U.S. Legal Program -- in a statement said, "The nation's most extreme abortion ban has been blocked, and the message to hostile politicians could not be clearer: The rights of women guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and protected by 40 years of Supreme Court precedent cannot be legislated away" ("Nation Now," Los Angeles Times, 7/22). She added that the "decision ensures for the moment that the women of North Dakota won't need to worry whether they will still have the same constitutionally protected rights as women living in other parts of the United States" (Cheney, Politico, 7/22).

Tammi Kromenaker, director of Red River Women's Clinic, similarly praised the ruling, stating, "We're pleased women in North Dakota will not have less rights than women in other states. We're pleased we will not be forcing women to make a decision before they are ready" (Dickinson Press, 7/22).