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N.D. Lawmakers Build 'Litigation Fund' To Defend Antiabortion Laws as Residents Petition for Repeal Votes

N.D. Lawmakers Build 'Litigation Fund' To Defend Antiabortion Laws as Residents Petition for Repeal Votes

April 11, 2013 — The North Dakota Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a budget amendment that would set aside money to defend against potential legal challenges to the state's recently enacted abortion restrictions, the AP/Dickinson Press reports. The amendment, proposed by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R), would designate $400,000 for a "litigation fund."

The new laws -- signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) last month and set to take effect Aug 1. -- would make North Dakota's abortion policies the most restrictive in the nation and potentially close the state's only abortion clinic (MacPherson, AP/Dickinson Press, 4/11).

One measure (HB 1456) prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat is "detectable," which can occur as early as six weeks if a transvaginal ultrasound is used. Another new law (SB 2305) would require physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, while a third measure (HB 1305) prohibits abortions sought because of the sex of the fetus or genetic defects, such as Down syndrome (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/27).

The Center for Reproductive Rights has said it plans to challenge the fetal heartbeat bill in court. The state has spent about $23,000 defending another lawsuit from CRR over a 2011 medication abortion law, which a judge has temporarily blocked.

Dalrymple urged the Legislature to set aside money to defend the laws when he signed them. Stenehjem said he reached the $400,000 estimate from discussions with attorneys general in states facing similar lawsuits, although he noted the cost "could be more [or] could be less."

Efforts Launched To Repeal Laws

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said his office last week received three petitions seeking to give voters a chance to repeal the laws through statewide ballot measures.

Jaeger has until April 11 to approve titles for the three petitions, each of which requires at least 13,452 signatures from state voters to qualify for the ballot. The deadline for supporters to submit signatures is June 24 (AP/Dickinson Press, 4/11).