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. reds

    i'm tired of women wining about "rights" ... your rights are this.....KEEP YOU LEGS CLOSED TIGHT keep your body under lock and key..,.be responsible if you play....know the rules and play safely......there should not be any issues on abortion when there are too many ways to prevent that from happening.....

    July 22, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  2. Who cares

    Killing is killing.

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

    Now if ND wanted to be REALLY thorough on this matter, they would require that EVERY egg produced by a woman be fertilized and brought to term in order to protect the "potential life" which it represents. /sarc-OFF/

    July 22, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  4. The Other Bob


    Yes those terrible red states! They are so bad liberals are flocking to them for work. Apparently they are getting something right.
    Um, no. Perhaps you have been listening to Rick Perry's ridiculous radio spots and think they are actually working.

    July 22, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  5. Gail

    I wonder how many of the politicians that voted for the ND bill have adopted a child? Or, how many anti-abortion proponents have done so?

    July 22, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  6. KrjMc

    "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."
    The rules are clearly spelled out – no limits on abortion the first 3 months, limited abortions in the next 3 months, and none after that except for the mother's health. Any other restrictions are only for the purpose of having them outlawed, there is no reason for them.

    July 22, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  7. Dar


    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...

    Maybe you should look in the mirror Mr. School, the right wingers are not the ones wanting to kill baby's, YOU ARE!! Just like the Taliban has no problem killing children even outside the womb. Apparently YOU don't either.
    To bad your mothers didn't think the way you do know.
    Why don't you just let them be born and hack them up so you can get your blood thirst fix.

    July 22, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  8. About time

    Can this judge take on Texas now please? Better yet, let Texas secede, conservatives can move there and give the rest of the country back to smart people?

    July 22, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  9. preventtheproblem

    Mandated vasectomies for all anti-choice males. Problem solved!

    July 22, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  10. ShawnDH

    In a free country, the government does NOT force women to give birth against their will. Period. If you don't like it, leave.

    July 22, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  11. Dave - Phx

    Republicans, they hate the living, but live the not born.

    July 22, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  12. Wow1234


    It's about following the law. This law would essentially overturn Roe v. Wade. I mean it even bans abortions in the case of rape and incest... How DARE these politicians for wasting taxpayers funds on "discovering the bounds of Roe v. Wade"???

    July 22, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  13. shawbrooke

    The judge is WAY behind the times. Women can buy kits that tell them whether they are pregnant a couple of weeks into the pregnancy, and unlike the decades he's talking about, 72 hour after pills have been out for years.

    As to the point about losing business, that's not the judge's problem. Under the new rules women will just get on to their decision a bit sooner, so what are they talking about?

    July 22, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  14. pro-life passion

    Yes, i know this is a passionate topic, on both sides; however, if your view is pro-life, it is a view that deep within is about protecting a human life that cannot protect itself. it is protecting a life from murder.

    I'll save the insults to anyone who is pro-choice, but it is sad that if you are for abortion, that you cannot or will not choose to understand a pro-lifers stance is not "religious", not "stone age", not "economic", it is about obligation. there is nothing in this world more honorable than standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, giving a voice to those who cannot speak.

    July 22, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  15. ManWithThe1000PoundBrain

    @blakenaustin, No, another activist ring-wing extremist legislature imposing THEIR personal (and religious) views on others.

    July 22, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  16. Justin

    Give up abortion and I will give up my second amendment! Abortion kills more people than guns.

    July 22, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  17. Former Red State citizen living in California

    A fetus cannot feel pain until about 20 weeks in. THAT is the point where you reach a moral issue. Abortions should not be restricted any time prior to 3 months. It's that simple. If people want to completely ban abortions then they I hope they enjoy people performing illegal abortions and also group homes for children that are left for adoptions, but not enough people willing to adopt. When I was a kid, my bus would pick up a group of kids from one of those homes and you can tell they lived quite meagerly. It's not a nice place. Funny how it's mostly red states that make such a crusade to stop abortions, but if abortions were made illegal, red states would only further their descent into welfare and more poverty. I used to live in the South and the red states are absolutely the poorest and least educated states in the country along with being some major welfare suckers as a result of their poverty. My own sister still lives in a red state and is on welfare. Oh, and my parents as well and they are doing quite poorly. I live in a blue state and life is peachy. Take a look at yourselves conservatives and see if the places you live really are making the best decisions or is it just your lawmakers are simply leading and oppressing the blind? The blind is you...

    July 22, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  18. rschier

    "Another activist judge imposing his personal political views on others. Disgusting!"
    blah....and more blah

    July 22, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  19. Robert

    rc roeder:

    So killing a baby to avoid supporting it is Ok? You must support the death penalty imposed immediately upon conviction to avoid the cost of death row.

    July 22, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  20. Mark

    "Right to choose," what?? Murder?? Viva Cristo Rey!!

    July 22, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  21. Heather

    I would be POed if I were in ND and knew that my state was spending money on something that is unlikely to be upheld in court and that will likely never do anything to change abortion laws in this country. No matter which side of the fence you're on, how is it alright for tax payer dollars to fund something that has a one in a million shot of succeeding? They could buy powerball tickets with those funds and have better odds.

    July 22, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  22. Call it whatever you want

    Call it whatever you want - abortion is murder, plain and simple. Mankind thinks they know it all. If God is aware of the a new life and has "its all its parts written down when it was made in secret," who are men to say it's not a life and can be cast aside like a piece of garbage? Men keep thinking they know best but the Bible says, "it does not belong to man to direct his own step." Jer. 10:23.

    July 22, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  23. BobInIrvine

    The statute in question "does not allow for an abortion in the case of rape or incest."

    Is this North Dakota or North Afghanistan?

    July 22, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  24. talkingheads

    It's nice that the fat white man in the picture is anti-abortion...

    July 22, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  25. Gail

    Who is raising these unwanted children that the politicians are forcing a woman to bear? Every woman forced to bear an unwanted child should hand it over to the father to raise...or to a politician who voted for the restriction.

    July 22, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
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