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North Dakota judge combines abortion challenges

North Dakota Judge Wickham Corwin ruled Tuesday that lawsuits challenging two state abortion laws can be combined into one case. The first statute in question is a 2011 law [text, PDF] that limits the drugs that can be used in abortions. The second is a recent statute [JURIST report] that requires abortion providers to be affiliated with a hospital within 30 miles of their practice [text, PDF]. The cases were combined when the plaintiffs, backed by the Center for Reproductive Rights [advocacy website], argued that both cases rely on the same legal and factual matters, as they both significantly effect the daily operations of abortions under state law. The only abortion clinic in the state, the Red River Women's Clinic [clinic website], is the plaintiff in both complaints, while the State is the defendant. The Center for Reproductive Rights stated:

Because the court has already considered many of the facts about the safety and quality of care provided at the Red River Women's Clinic, we believe today's decision will expedite the litigation and ultimately result in both laws being permanently struck down as unconstitutional.
Since the 2011 law came into effect, the state has already paid tens of thousands of dollars defending it [AP report]. Combining the lawsuits will save all parties time and significant amounts of public funds.

North Dakota has been at the forefront of recent conflicts in abortion law [JURIST news archive]. In April North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple [official website] signed a measure [JURIST report] banning abortions after 20 weeks based on the controversial premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point. Dalrymple also signed two other bills into law, HB 1305 and HB 1456 [text, PDF], along with the statute currently challenged. Both of those statutes create limitations on permissible motivations for abortions regarding the race or disabling condition of the fetus, similar to a law that was recently challenged in Arizona. The CRR is also planning challenges to those provisions. On Monday, the US House of Representatives approved a bill [JURIST report] also banning abortions after 20 weeks, also based on the premise of fetal pain.

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