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N.D. Medication Abortion Law Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

N.D. Medication Abortion Law Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

July 16, 2013 — A North Dakota judge on Tuesday struck down a 2011 state law prohibiting a drug used in medication abortions, saying it violated the state and the U.S. constitutions, the AP/Bismark Tribune reports (AP/Bismark Tribune, 7/16).

The law was set to take effect in August 2011, but the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Fargo-based Red River Women's Clinic, arguing that the law unconstitutionally restricts abortion access for women. North Dakota District Judge Wickham Corwin blocked the law while the suit proceeded, and in April 2012 he announced he would strike it down as unconstitutional.

The law mandates that any drug used to induce abortion must meet FDA protocols and that its label is intended for use in abortion care. The law barred the use of misoprostol -- one of the two drugs used in medication abortions -- because the drug is labeled for the treatment of stomach ulcers (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/11).

In his final ruling on Monday, Corwin wrote, "No compelling state interest justifies this infringement." He also criticized a state witness -- physician and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists President Donna Harrison -- saying her "opinions lack scientific support, tend to be based on unsubstantiated concerns and are generally at odds with solid medical evidence."

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said he plans to appeal the case to the North Dakota Supreme Court, adding that defining abortion rights is "something that the North Dakota Supreme Court has never addressed" and "should be ruled on not by one trial judge but by the North Dakota Supreme Court."

Newer Law Challenged

Last month, Corwin agreed to combine the lawsuit against the 2011 law with a new suit challenging a 2013 law that would require abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges. The judge said both laws raised the same "legal and factual matters," but state attorneys argued the cases were "separate and distinct."

A hearing on the admitting-privileges law is scheduled for July 31 (AP/Bismark Tribune, 7/16).