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. rs

    Another activist judge imposing his personal political views on others. Disgusting!
    More like an activist judge upholding the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States AND a woman's rights!

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  2. deek5

    Pro-Choice? Woman's health? Woman's rights? Why are these animals afraid to call it as it is? It's killing babies. You can sugarcoat it any way you want....it's murder. What's the difference between what happened in Newtown and abortion. The only difference is you can't see their eyes when they're in the womb.

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  3. GI Joe

    Be careful – after they take away a woman's rights to choose, they'll go after the men. ha ha ha ha ha

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  4. Anonymous


    Yes those terrible red states! They are so bad liberals are flocking to them for work. Apparently they are getting something right.
    Um, no.

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. DocHollywood

    ...."this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," the governor said..................

    And yet they still say it's for the health of the woman. What a bunch of two faced donkeys these guys are. They're no different from radical Muslims. They're just pushing their religious beliefs onto everyone, and if you oppose that (as a woman), you can just suffer the consequences anyways. Even if it means dying in a back alley abortion.

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  6. Really

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

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  7. Bob

    "Medical Safety for Women" is TeaPartySpeak for "let's try to come up with something that will survive court challenges." What a shame there are NO stats backing those claims up, not to mention that childbirth is much riskier for women than abortions.

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  8. Victims

    I can understand the twisted, ignorant sentiment behind why these people are against abortion. But how can they justify a law that would prevent a victim of incest or rape from getting an abortion. This is disgusting.

    July 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  9. TickedinNY

    Essmeier says: 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?


    Yeah, because it's too much to be held accountable for your own actions. Really essmeier, you're that pathetic?

    July 22, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    To the bald guy with the "defund Planned Parenthood" sign: PP doesn't use any tax dollars for abortion services.

    It DOES use tax dollars to provide healthcare to low-income women,

    You know, if private organizations like churches cared more about people and less about buying their pastor a new jet, they'd have the funds to provide healthcare to these women ...

    July 22, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  11. E Michelle

    Now that birth control is supposedly free under the new Affordable Health Care Act, none of this should be a problem....right?

    Nope. Now people are going to complain about how they shouldn't have to foot the bill for anyone's free birth control pills or tubal ligations and what not.

    July 22, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  12. lawrence

    the issue is not abortion...it is the right of a person to decide their own medical procedures. what if some group got in power that did not approve of immunizations, blood transfusions or organ transplants? would the people that need that...just die? the issue is rights, nothing less.

    July 22, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  13. gstlab3

    why bother to vote or take part in America any more by paying your taxes when an activist judge with a political or moral agenda or axe to grind can ignore and throw away the will of the people and even their votes and allow for a fake right like this one to kill a baby when it suits the liberal anything goes situation of these loose woman and their lack of self control or worse her lack of morals and common sense?

    oh sure let us do these operations without the medical protections that are afforded to most the other out patient care centers., that's only fair because it is for wiping out the useless eaters?

    July 22, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  14. reds

    discriminate against whites!! you must be on welfare!!

    July 22, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  15. Cinman

    We have controlled and suppressed women for thousands of years. Men's end game is to get it back like other cultures have it. Well at least older white men who really miss having dinner ready when they get home.

    July 22, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  16. ND resident

    I am a ND resident and this bill made me very upset. That joke of a governer signing this into law upset me and his comment about setting funds aside upset me more. In my opinion a bill like this that is essentially going to be fought with my tax money should go to the voters.

    July 22, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  17. PaulC

    The republican zealots are on a mission. They miss the dark ages.

    July 22, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  18. sheshie

    All of these left-wing dems and libs having abortions,are sure going to dwindle down the democratic party base of the future.

    July 22, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  19. kellsbells

    I would never have an abortion myself, but I don't think anyone should be able to tell a woman that she can't have one. I fight for abortion rights because it's part of women's rights in general. Good job federal judge. Boo on North Dakota.

    "I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born, but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth." -Sister Joan Chittister

    July 22, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  20. Darw1n

    Have you beaten a religious fundamentalist today?

    July 22, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  21. Robert

    @blakenaustin – An "activist judge"? How can this person be labeled an "activist judge" when there are decades of court precedent supporting his decision? Just because you don't like the decision doesn't make him an "activist judge".

    July 22, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  22. Allie

    Thank God. Out of all of the ridiculous anti-abortion laws passed recently, this one was by far the worst.

    And yes, I question why anyone would want their state government to be wasting time and money on a bill they know full well is going to be overturned.

    July 22, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Big Ben

    There is always a man standing out front demanding his right to impregnate women.

    July 22, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  24. The Other Bob


    Another activist judge imposing his personal political views on others. Disgusting!
    What's disgusting is right wing fanatics crying "activist judge" whenever a ruling doesn't support their oppressive agenda.

    July 22, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  25. Matthew Kilburn

    "Why don't you right wing zealots go find another country to drag back into the stone age?"

    So, you only consider a country to be developed if it willingly consents and condones the destruction of tens of millions of its future citizens. Gotcha.

    July 22, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
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