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
10 years 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. David

    @"The Tyranny of the Left"
    Let's start with that idiotic name. What is the "tyranny" the left engages in? Equal rights for all? Education for kids? Welfare? Health care reform? All THAT "tyranny"?

    You really have no clue what that words means.

    No, to Republican idiots "tyranny" is allowing women to chose their own reproductive course. Tyranny is caring for those kids AFTER they are born (you know, with that educational spending you Republicans fight, or that food assistance you Republicans fight). You know how you guys are trying to cut food stamps? It's the poor kids that go hungry.

    But to sickening Republicans all their bigotry and intolerance isn't "tyranny", oh no! That is the word the honorless reserve for all the programs that treat people with respect.

    You Republicans would look less sickening if you supported kids once they were born. The fact that you don't makes you look even worse when you cry your alligator tears for the fetuses you'd turn your back on once they are born.

    July 22, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  2. VeeJay

    I can't help but believe that if men could get pregnant and have babies, there would be no question but that abortions would be legal everywhere and with very little restrictions.

    July 22, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  3. DJL329


    The federal law known as The Hyde Amendment prevents federal tax $$ from being used to pay for abortions, so you're not paying for them.

    July 22, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  4. ThinkAgain

    @The tyranny of the Left: "After a certain period, the right of the child to live becomes paramount."

    And according to you righties, that "certain period" is right after they are born – given you folks just cut funding for food stamps from the farm bill.

    Corporate farms = Wah-HOO, we love you!
    Children born into low-income families = Screw you!

    July 22, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  5. dude

    I like how the term "war on women" is everywhere now. I'm sorry but if you truly believe there is a "war on women" then that means there is equally a "war on babies". Pick your side. Your rights only go so far until they overlap someone else's. So at some point that fetus is alive and has its own rights. Now we can debate when that is but if it has a heartbeat and brainwaves it seems pretty dang alive to me. At that point right to life trumps right to inconvienence.

    July 22, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  6. Hammerdown

    Its NOT your body, mind your own business.

    July 22, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  7. Sunnysmom

    Now onto Texas!! Overturn that POS legislation too.

    July 22, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  8. Subnx

    At some point it's a baby. The issue has nothing to do with women's rights or welfare or any of the other collateral issues that cloud the discussion.

    July 22, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  9. BeRealistic

    I find that most opponents to abortion cite religion as the motivation. I wonder if people are aware that, according to the March of Dimes, roughly 50% of all pregnancies end in misscarriage. If you follow the logic presented by some shouldn't there be an abortion ban enforced on god, or the deity of choice?

    July 22, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  10. NYVeteran

    A victory for women over the right to manage their own bodies.

    July 22, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  11. Tampa Tim

    Fetuses and those who think like fetuses make up the right wingnut base.

    July 22, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. Fox

    I don't agree!!

    July 22, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  13. ThinkAgain

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

    People are going there for work because all the righties shipped their job overseas.

    July 22, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  14. JG

    Good. I'm tired of some of these ultra-conservatives constantly trying to set us back 50 years. It's 2013. A woman who is raped should not have to keep the baby.

    July 22, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  15. Slappy Rimshuck

    This is an interesting mental experiment: why do we set any limits on when an abortion can be performed? Why is 19 weeks OK, but 20 is not? Why not allow them at 40 weeks? If the woman has already started labor, is that too late? If so, why?

    There is no logic applied to the arbitrary limits. If it is a life, it is murder. If it is not a life, try to expalin to the rest of us when it DOES become a life and how you arrived at that conclusion.

    July 22, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  16. ThinkAgain

    @blakenaustin: "Another activist judge imposing his personal political views on others. Disgusting!"

    How is it "activist" to follow a Supreme Court ruling?

    July 22, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  17. Doomed

    I am Pro Choice but even I know you are killing a human being.

    July 22, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  18. reasonablebe

    ruled as it should. this law was blatant attempt to outlaw abortion, period. 6 weeks? many women do not even know they are pregnant- or even suspect it until after that. many women don't know they are pregnant until 12 wkks, some even later. many preganacies end spontaneously beyond 6 weeks, often without the woman knowing she was in fact pregnant.

    why is it women having control of their bodies and reproduction is such a threat that they try to take control in any way they can?

    July 22, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  19. Jim

    Another defeat for the American Taliban (i.e., GOP)!

    July 22, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  20. Dom

    Liberals want restrictions on owning guns, the type of jobs you create, the type of car you drive, the type of food you eat, the type of and amount of energy you use....but when it comes to abortions, NO restrictions at all EVER!

    July 22, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  21. rs


    Yes those terrible red states! They are so bad liberals are flocking to them for work. Apparently they are getting something right
    Funny, my Red State has a higher rate of unemployment than the national average- and a hole host of other bad demographic indicators- and stupid anti-abortion laws too.

    July 22, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  22. Donnie the Lion

    Amazing how much we do for unborn citizens....and how we neglect them once they leave the womb.

    July 22, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  23. Scott

    @OldSchool, instead of flapping your jaws online, how about you rally about such things in the streets.

    July 22, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  24. bikermiker

    I can just never reconcile the 'less government is better' with the constant efforts by the GOP to control virtually every aspect of people's personal lives through government intervention with laws telling people who they can and can't marry, who can and can't have an abortion, which people can and can't have access to birth control, what people can watch on televisions and on and on. Less government is better – period!

    July 22, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. Mike

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

    I can only assume your are consistent so feel the same way about California and Colorado, vis a vis marijuana laws.

    July 22, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
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