Lawsuit Filed Challenging North Dakota Pre-Viability Ban


The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday arguing that two North Dakota laws, one banning abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy—before some women even know they are pregnant—and another outlawing abortions for reasons of sex selection or genetic fetal anomaly are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s only abortion clinic and its medical director, argues that the laws clearly violate the U.S. Constitution and unnecessarily place women’s health in danger by banning pre-viability abortions. Specifically the lawsuit challenges HB 1456, which would make virtually all abortions in the state illegal after the point at which cardiac activity can be detected in a pregnancy. The other law challenged, HB 1305, bans abortions for reasons of sex selection and for genetic fetal anomaly and is the first of its kind in the nation.

Following a lawsuit filed by CRR and the America Civil Liberties Union, a similar ban on abortion at 20 weeks gestation (18 weeks post-fertilization) in Arizona was permanently struck down by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in May. Also in May, a federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction against a 2013 Arkansas law that would ban abortions beginning at 12 weeks, while a state court temporarily blocked a 20-week ban in Georgia in December 2012. Yet another similar law, this time in Idaho, was also ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge in March. None of that mattered to conservatives in North Dakota though.

It’s been a busy year for reproductive challenges in the state. Just last month, CRR took legal action to block North Dakota’s SB 2305, a bill designed to drive out providers and shut down Red River Women’s Clinic and effectively end safe and legal abortion in the state by imposing medically unwarranted requirements that any physician performing abortions in the state must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. That challenge would supplements CRR’s 2011 lawsuit against a North Dakota law imposing onerous restrictions on medication abortion and requiring the clinic to have a medically unnecessary written backup agreement to handle emergencies at a local hospital—which a state judge recently announced, following a three-day trial, he would permanently strike as unconstitutional.

“In their scorched-earth campaign to rid North Dakota of its only reproductive health clinic that provides abortions and effectively end safe, legal abortion in the state, the politicians who advanced these laws made their hostility to women clear,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “In the service of their extremist ideology, these hostile politicians would ban abortion at a time before a woman may even know she is pregnant—and put the lives and health of women who have decided to end a pregnancy at risk of great harm by denying them safe and legal means of doing so. They would relegate the women of North Dakota to a second class of citizens whose rights and access to reproductive health care are not equal to those who live in states committed to defending the rights of their citizens rather than attacking them.”

The state is racking up massive legal bills defending the flurry of unconstitutional bills passed within the last year, but so far anti-choice lawmakers are undeterred. This latest legal challenge will only add to the tab.

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