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
12 months 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. Dano

    "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.

    I'll bet the citizens of ND are happy to know that the state has so much money that it can pass laws like this knowing they will be challenged in court and most likely found unconstututional. Apparently the economy there is doing so well that everyone has a job so this is the only problem the ND politicians have to address.

    July 22, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  2. rc roeder

    so Ed1 given the choice of funding an abortion (one time cost) or 18 years of support which would you choose given that there is not None of above option.

    July 22, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  3. blakenaustin

    Another activist judge imposing his personal political views on others. Disgusting!

    July 22, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  4. rc roeder

    to The tyranny of the Left: just as it appears the people of the right want to control people in the bedroom and else where, well only of the are not exactly like them.

    July 22, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  5. Sniffit

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

    That's a tautology. Roe v Wade quite clearly set up both the limits of state/gov't authority and power to limit a woman's right to choose AND the limits of a woman's right to choose that she can expect to be absolute. Roe says at what point the gov't can step in to limit abortions. All of this hullabaloo is the religio-fascist conservative attack trying to make that limit even more restrictive of a woman's rights as set forth in Roe. It's not in any way, shape or form an effort to create limits where none existed before...no matter how misinformed and undereducated said religio-fascist conservative base is about what Roe actually says, such that they imagine they're simply arguing for limits on something currently unlimited.

    July 22, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  6. Thom

    ALL ANTI WOMEN'S RIGHTS politicians need to go......... let's clear em' out people. People who have nothing better to do than come up with these anti woman laws and nose up your ass don't need to be working for us anymore. Now the state will lose millions fighting it and will lose in the end positively.

    July 22, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  7. Steve

    It's dumbfounding what Republicans are doing these days, insane really.

    July 22, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  8. Taroya

    It is always surprising to listen to the anti-choice types whine about how life is so sacred. But let's not provide welfare or food stamps after they are born.
    And, they don't believe that a woman is capable of making a choice, but they think she can raise a child.
    And, it is ALWAYS the woman's fault, that poor poor man on Viagra, he just couldn't keep it zipped in his pants, so it is all HER fault.
    Same people that don't believe there should be public education, unless you also teach the BIBLE there, and no heathens should attend public school with good christians, now.
    Nah, a woman is just an incubator, she don't need no education no how!
    I really can't begin to express how disgusting these anti-choice people are.
    You don't believe in abortion, don't have one.
    Otherwise, keep your nose in your darned business. Never know, you might run into someone like me that would just as soon cut your nose off than allow you to stick it where it doesn't belong in the first place.

    July 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  9. Third Eagle of the Apocalypse

    Fetuses can’t stand and neither does your argument.

    Mark

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

    July 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  10. BeRealistic

    Addressed to 'The tyranny of the Left:'
    Embyologists have long known that it is impossible for an embryo to feel pain or have a collective thought before nerve endings are extended in the fetus from the thalamus to the prefrontal cortex,and any fetal movement before this happens is called reflex arc, the same thing that makes your knee jump when your doctor taps your patella. None of this is possible before 20 – 25 weeks. There are instances where abortion protects the mother or the fetus is found to have severe birth defects.

    July 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  11. Callie

    @ also Data Drive,

    YOU can make YOUR own decisions on YOUR body. Keep YOUR opinions on what happens to MY body and OTHERS to YOURSELF. Mind your own business.

    July 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  12. David

    @"The Tyranny of the Left" (moronic name, by the way),

    July 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  13. ThinkAgain

    Nothing like a bunch of "small-government", "cut all spending except defense" repubs wasting tax payer dollars on an issue that the Supreme Court has ALREADY DECIDED.

    July 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "smaller government you say"

    Yep, just small enough to fit right up your hoohoo and into your womb.

    July 22, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  15. PaulCat

    Just think, these parenthood clinics they are closing could educate women as to prevent abortions. (MEN)

    July 22, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  16. Data Driven

    Oh good, everyone anticipated my replies, particularly to Ed1. The "I don't want my tax dollars going to blahblah" argument is just the weakest argument a person can possibly make. I myself have an encyclopedic list of stuff I don't want my tax dollars going towards, and you know what? SO WHAT.

    July 22, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  17. Cheryl

    As a female Republican, I am truly disappointed that this battle is being fought again and we are going back to the old days of coat hangars and back room surgeries. Makes me want to rip up my republican card. GOP – keep digging your grave! You have no one to blame for losing the 2016 presidential election but yourselves. Keep up the anti-abortion laws and in 18-20 years, you'll see another spike in dangerous crime. It's been proven.

    Some things, like abortion, should be between a woman and her doctor, not the government. And, Ed1, there is a heck of lot more expensive stuff that you and I have to pay for for other people than this.

    July 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  18. Boo

    Suck it up, red states.....

    July 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. Getreal

    This law was ridiculous and should absolutely be contested. Women will have abortions. Passing such a restrictive law will only cause a slew of unwanted babies that will end up in foster care, or it will cause a slew of unregulated and illegal abortions in late terms. Look at the data people, it will happen. Get off your high horses! Abortion will happen. Push, push push birth control. Educate out children on the subject. Push and provide birth control in the first place.

    July 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  20. jonusb

    Shows how informed I am. I wasn't aware that people actually lived in North Dakota.

    July 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "Defund Planned Parenthood"

    Translation: "I hate my mother and have yet to progress passed the oedipal stage."

    July 22, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  22. t3chn0ph0b3

    Lame. They should have put this story the standard format that utilizes Disqus. This one is more than worth discussing.

    July 22, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  23. Odo

    HenryMiller
    This "medical safety for women" crap is pure sophistry.
    ===============
    Says the MAN who will never HIS LIFE life endangered by a pregnancy......

    July 22, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  24. tony

    All cancelled abortions that turn into births, should become financial wards of whomever voted to pass the laws. All living and medical expenses and unrestricted education right through college years.

    July 22, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  25. jay

    Women against sick old fat right winged men. What a modern day scenario. It's about time we aborted all these politicians, and name all the 'girlfriends' of theirs that that they made have abortions. Some rich woman should offer rewards to all right wingers who have had abortions because of their right winged two faced boyfriends, husbands and bosses. That would straighten this subject out in a month.

    July 22, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
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