Judge blocks North Dakota's restrictive abortion law
Anti-abortion rights protesters demonstrate outside of Red River Women's Clinic on October 25, 2012. North Dakota's sizable Roman Catholic community, which makes up about 30 percent of the state's residents, helps account for the persistence of the demonstrations at the clinic. The bishop of the Diocese of Fargo leads an annual march and protest to the clinic.
July 22nd, 2013
02:19 PM ET
1 year ago

Judge blocks North Dakota's restrictive abortion law

(CNN) - One of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S. was temporarily blocked from enforcement after a federal judge said Monday that North Dakota's pre-viability provisions were "invalid and unconstitutional."

The state legislature had passed a law that would ban an abortion when a fetal heartbeat was detected–sometimes as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The legislation was set to go into effect August 1, but Judge Daniel Hovland granted a temporary injunction, after a Fargo women's clinic filed a lawsuit last month.

The judge noted that the law would ban 90% of abortions performed at Red River Women's Clinic, North Dakota's only clinic that performs abortions. While proponents say the law enhances medical safety for women in the state, opponents argue it makes it nearly impossible for women to have an abortion.

In his decision, the judge said "there is no question" that the law known as HB 1456 directly contradicts a "litany" of Supreme Court cases that address restraints on abortion, including Roe v. Wade.

"The State of North Dakota has presented no evidence to justify the passage of this troubling law," he wrote. "The State has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women."

With the law, North Dakota would have had the strictest limit in the country. A number of states have passed abortion bans after 20 weeks, such as Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Indiana and Alabama. Arkansas has a ban in place for pregnancies beyond 12 weeks.

Some states have no time limit, while others allow abortion up to the end of the second trimester, about 27 or 28 weeks into the pregnancy.

"I respect the attention Judge Hovland has given to this case," said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on Monday. "It is also important to remember that courts routinely grant preliminary injunctions in these types of cases, so this was not unusual or unexpected. This is an early stage of the proceeding. As it is the constitutional duty of the Attorney General to defend legislation enacted by the North Dakota Legislature, we will continue to defend the challenged statutes through the established legal process."

Abortion rights groups hailed the judge's order.

"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," said Bebe Anderson of Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped bring the lawsuit. "Today's 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."

Sarah Stoesz, the president of the regional chapter of Planned Parenthood, wrote the ruling "means that women throughout the state will have access to safe and legal abortion while the state continues to pursue its attack on women’s health in the courts.”

Proponents of the North Dakota bill anticipated the law would be challenged in the courts shortly after the legislation passed back in March.

When signing the bill, Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple acknowledged the law had a tough road ahead.

"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," the governor said in a statement, directing the legislature to set aside funds to cover the cost of the expected legal battle.

The state now has the option of asking a federal appeals court in St. Louis to step in and allow the law to go into effect while the court challenges continue, a process that could take several months. An eventual appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is a possibility.

The law would have targeted doctors rather than women having an abortion, with a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Doctors, if convicted, could also lose their license to practice medicine. Women who have the abortion may not be prosecuted.

While the law does not rule out abortions when a medical emergency threatens the life of a woman, it does not allow for an abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Abortion was legalized in all 50 states in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. Statutory time limits on when abortions can take place, however, vary from state to state.

For the justices, Roe reflected earlier cases involving the right to privacy. That "right," wrote Justice Harry Blackmun in the main opinion for the court, is "broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."

But the ruling was a qualified one, and that fact has been used by abortion opponents over the decades in their efforts to narrow the scope of other abortion provisions. Some activists have said they hope restrictions like those imposed by North Dakota would lead to a fundamental rethinking of access to abortion by the Supreme Court in coming years.

The "qualified right" established by the high court found its form in the controversial "trimester analysis" laid out by the justices in Roe: permitting no government regulation during the first three months of a pregnancy; allowing limited regulation in the second trimester to protect the woman's health and safety; and granting government the power to ban abortions during the third trimester - a time when, medical consensus has concluded, the fetus is capable of living on its own.

– CNN's Chelsea J. Carter and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.


Filed under: Abortion • North Dakota
soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. TONE

    These red ststes have nothing better to do than pass abortion laws what about education economic development for it's people ladies come out in full force come november 2014 and fire these old angry white guys give them their pink slips.

    July 22, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  2. Data Driven

    Finally some good news on this topic. The anti-women brigade is winning most of these battles, lately.

    July 22, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  3. The tyranny of the Left

    It is clear the leftists in this country will stop at nothing to force the murder of innocent babies to continue. If the people of a state want to regulate abortion then they have the right to regulate abortion, just as they do anything else. Roe V Wade was not an unlimited license to murder babies until one week after their due date. Abortion as birth control must end. After a certain period, the right of the child to live becomes paramount.

    July 22, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  4. Ed1

    I don't want my tax dollars funding children I had no part in making or pay for Abortions I had nothing to do with either.

    If you have sex you should be held responsible for you own actions not the tax payers that goes for birth control pills and condoms too.

    Women are just as much to blame as Men but they should pay not us.

    July 22, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  5. also Data Drive

    yes the anti-infant brigade must be happy.

    July 22, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  6. Michael

    @Tyrranny – A fetus is not a "baby" until birth. If you don't want to get an abortion, then don't ... but NOBODY has the right to tell a woman what she can and cannot to to her own body. Until a fetus exhibits human characteristics and can survive outside the womb, stay out the woman's personal business.

    July 22, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  7. emskadittle

    smaller government you say, spend less you say, how much are these court cases costing us?

    July 22, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  8. rs

    Ed1

    I don't want my tax dollars funding children I had no part in making or pay for Abortions I had nothing to do with either.
    ________________________
    Funny, Ed, I don't want my tax dollars supporting war (clearly not a pro-life item), nor capital punishment, or subsidies for big oil and gas, and a whole host of other things. You know what? That isn't the way government works. You don't get to opick what you support.There are clearly things that are none of your (or my) business- like what a woman decides in consultation with her doctor.

    July 22, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. adam

    Yes those terrible red states! They are so bad liberals are flocking to them for work. Apparently they are getting something right.

    July 22, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  10. eric

    It's about time that some people step in and counter the GOP assault on women's rights.

    July 22, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  11. sly

    North Dakota: Either seceed from the Union, or abide by Federal Law.

    I don't think anyone would notice if North Dakota simply left.

    Good job Judge.

    July 22, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  12. Jim

    Turning back progress on women's rights is hard work.

    July 22, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. bczu

    Love how its a bunch of women holding up pro choice signs. And some fat balding guy holding up a sign to "defund" planned parent hood.

    July 22, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  14. Ron Bandor

    IIn other news, Ed1 wants it to rain gumdrops.

    July 22, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  15. Mark

    I think fetuses should be able to invoke the stand your ground law.

    July 22, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  16. essmeier

    "Roe V Wade was not an unlimited license to murder babies until one week after their due date."

    Nor has any state ever regarded it as such. Problem pregnancies often occur, and they are not preventable. Unwanted pregnancy is preventable, but the Right won't lift a finger to help prevent them.

    Are YOU doing anything to help prevent unwanted pregnancy? Or are you just complaining?

    July 22, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. HenryMiller

    This "medical safety for women" crap is pure sophistry.

    July 22, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. ART

    To tyranny of the left,when you go out and adopt a bunch of unwanted babies then you can open your pie hole and speak for everyone else

    July 22, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  19. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

    Anyone that refers to abortion as murder is not to be taken seriously. No matter which side of the issue you find yourself you should know basic definitions. Comments like this also reveal the true intent of these laws. You have no interest in enhancing medical safety for women. You goal is simply to ban abortion at any cost. The fact that you have to resort to such shady politics SHOULD tell you how wrong you are.

    The tyranny of the Left

    It is clear the leftists in this country will stop at nothing to force the murder of innocent babies to continue. If the people of a state want to regulate abortion then they have the right to regulate abortion, just as they do anything else. Roe V Wade was not an unlimited license to murder babies until one week after their due date. Abortion as birth control must end. After a certain period, the right of the child to live becomes paramount.

    July 22, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  20. Damon

    Precedence is established, try as they might, it actually re-inforces Roe v. Wade every time they pass these stupid laws.

    July 22, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  21. DeltaForceDave

    I don't give a krap about abortion.

    I don't want my tax dollars supporting ANY foreign countries for ANY reason.

    Who do I see about that?

    July 22, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  22. rc roeder

    responding to TONE: The problem is that state is made up of mostly old angry white guys.

    July 22, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  23. DeltaForceDave

    I don't give a schitt about abortion.

    I don't want my tax dollars supporting ANY foreign countries for ANY reason.

    Who do I see about that?

    July 22, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  24. DeltaForceDave

    I don't give a damn about abortion.

    I don't want my tax dollars supporting ANY foreign countries for ANY reason.

    Who do I see about that?

    July 22, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  25. OldSchool

    Why don't you right wing zealots go find another country to drag back into the stone age? Maybe you can help the Taliban in Afghanistan...

    July 22, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6