BISMARCK, ND — The North Dakota Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state’s abortion ban will remain blocked while a lawsuit continues over its constitutionality.
The ban was designed to take effect once the US Supreme Court. quashed Roe v. Wade. But a district judge suspended it this summer while the Red River Women’s Clinic (RRWC) filed a lawsuit arguing that the state constitution protected the right to abortion.
“While the regulation of abortion is within the authority of the legislature under the North Dakota Constitution, RRWC has demonstrated likely success on the merits that a fundamental right to abortion exists in the limited cases of life-saving circumstances and preserve health, and the statute is not strictly designed to meet strict scrutiny,” Chief Justice Jon J. Jensen wrote in the ruling.
The law, one of many abortion-restricting measures passed by state legislatures before the high court’s decision, includes exceptions to save the mother’s life and in cases of rape or incest.
The Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion clinic in the state, closed its doors this summer and moved its operations a short distance from Fargo to Moorhead, Minnesota. where abortion is still legal. But the owner of the clinic continues with the lawsuit.
“The court made the right decision and sided with the people of North Dakota today,” clinic director Tammi Kromenaker said in a statement. “Those seeking abortion services know what is best for them and their families and should be able to access such essential services when they need them. While I am heartbroken that we have been forced to close our doors here in Fargo, we will continue to serve the region at our new clinic in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Messages left with North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley’s office were not immediately returned Thursday.
Wrigley had argued that the ban should apply while the lawsuit progresses, saying Burleigh County District Judge Bruce Romanick erred in granting the injunction. Romanick has said the Red River Women’s Clinic had a “substantial likelihood” of succeeding in its lawsuit, but also said there is no “clear and obvious answer” to whether the state constitution grants the right to abortion.
Lawyers for the clinic argued that Romanick’s decision to block the ban was correct.
When Romanick blocked the law from going into effect, he acknowledged that the clinic had moved, but noted that doctors and hospitals would still be affected by the statute. Under the law, a doctor who performs an abortion would be charged with a felony and then would have to prove that the procedure was performed in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.
Lawyers for the clinic said the ban and its rules on affirmative defenses may make doctors hesitant “to perform abortions even in a life-threatening situation.”
Since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the ruling that protected abortion rights for nearly five decades, abortion restrictions have been in the hands of states. and the landscape has changed rapidly.
Thirteen states are now banning abortion at any time during pregnancy and one more, Georgia, bans it once heart activity can be detected, or around six weeks gestation.
Courts have stayed enforcement of abortion bans or deep restrictions in Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming. Idaho courts have compelled the state to allow abortions during medical emergencies.