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N.D. defense of antiabortion-rights law cost $491K

June 28, 2016 — North Dakota spent almost $500,000 to defend an unconstitutional antiabortion-rights law (HB 1456) in court, according to records accessed by the Associated Press, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

According to the AP/Bee, the sum does not include the cost of the North Dakota Attorney General's Office's staff time (MacPherson, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/24).

Background

The law made performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable a Class C felony. Were it in effect, it would be the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the North Dakota law in June 2013 on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic.

Later in 2013, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law. In April 2014, a federal judge struck down the law as an "invalid and unconstitutional" measure that "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge."

In July 2015, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision overturning the law. However, the 8th Circuit also urged the Supreme Court to revisit the fetal viability standard. The North Dakota Attorney General in November 2015 asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court ruling on the case (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/26).

State costs for defending antiabortion-rights measures

The state's Emergency Commission on Monday approved the last payment associated with the lawsuit, which overall totaled $491,016.

The AP/Bee reports that at the time the law passed in 2013, the state reserved $400,000 for defending abortion regulations. The Legislature in 2015 approved an additional $400,000 for such purposes. Further, in reviewing billing records obtained via an open records request, the Associated Press found that the state has paid another $79,932 since 2011 to defend abortion regulations.

North Dakota Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D) noted that the money spent to defend the fetal heartbeat ban could instead have been used to compensate for shortfalls in the state's current budget. The use of state funds to defend the law was "a colossal backfire at the height of fiscal irresponsibility," he said, adding, "It has been far too easy for the [conservative] Legislature to litigate unconstitutional laws with other people's money" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/24).