Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Judge blocks enforcement of ND abortion law

Federal district judge Daniel L. Hovland of North Dakota yesterday blocked enforcement of the state's highly restrictive abortion law, declaring it "invalid and unconstitutional" in his grant of a temporary injunction to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the suit on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic, the state's only abortion clinic.  Read more here.  The law, which would have imposed the most stringent limits on abortions in the nation, was set to take effect on August 1.  It would have banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically about 6 weeks into pregnancy, with very few exceptions.

The law runs afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedents, including Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which permit abortions up to the point of fetal viability, typically at about 24 weeks. Viability is determined by a physician.  Proponents of the North Dakota law had asserted that the presence of a heartbeat could be seen as a sign or form of viability.  Governor Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, said he considered the law "a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."  Hovland obviously disagreed, saying the law was "in direct contradiction to a litany of United States Supreme Court cases addressing restraints on abortion." 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.  
North Dakota’s law is the most aggressive among many recently passed abortion laws.  Earlier this year, Arkansas passed a law that would ban abortions at 12 weeks, but a federal district judge in Little Rock blocked that law in May.  

But the Red River Clinic in Fargo now faces a new challenge.  The new North Dakota law would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a requirement that medical groups call unnecessary.  Because the Fargo facility relies on a doctor who flies in each week, it will be unable to operate if the law on admitting privileges takes effect.  A legal challenge to that law is pending.  Read about a similar case in Mississippi here and here.  

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