North Dakota judge refuses to block portion of state abortion ban News
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North Dakota judge refuses to block portion of state abortion ban

A North Dakota judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction Tuesday, allowing the state’s abortion ban to remain in effect. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a reproductive rights organization, filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban, which currently makes it a felony to perform or aid an abortion, with an exception for situations where women face death or a serious health risk. While the state ban provides an exception for situations of rape and incest, the exception only applies within the first six weeks of pregnancy.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, who filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic, argued the strict exceptions in SB 2150—the state ban—are too narrow:

The medical exceptions language in the ban is extremely vague and makes it unclear how sick or near-death a patient must be before a doctor can intervene, or whether abortion is permitted when the fetus has a fatal condition. The ban contains a similarly confusing and narrow sex offenses exception that is limited to the first 6 weeks of pregnancy and would force physicians to determine whether a sex offense occurred before being able to provide an abortion.

The center further argued the ban violates the state constitution, which protects the right of pregnant people to obtain life-saving or health preserving abortions. The center asked the court to allow doctors to continue using their “good-faith medical judgment” to perform abortions in such situations.

State District Judge Bruce Romanick, however, found the request was “not appropriate,” stating the Plaintiffs “presented no authority for the Court to grant the specific relief requested.”

“Though we are disappointed by today’s decision,” the center wrote in a press release following the decision, “we remain confident we will prevail after the court hears further evidence of how this law harms pregnant North Dakotans.” The center further emphasized that the narrow exceptions of many abortion bans are not functional in practice, claiming “doctors are unclear who qualifies for the exceptions, and they are terrified to perform any abortion as they face years in prison.”

State Senator Jane Myrdal, who introduced the bill in 2023, approved of the court’s ruling. “I think we have something that’s very clear for physicians to see,” she stated. “It’s common sense what we put in as far as the health exceptions… and interpreting it simply shouldn’t be that hard for physicians.”

The legislature initially passed HB 1466 in 2007 as a “trigger” ban intended to limit abortion services if the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established the constitutional right to abortion. When the Supreme Court reversed Roe in June 2022, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley immediately triggered the ban. The state Supreme Court blocked HB 1466 in March 2023, finding the state constitution implicitly included the right to an abortion to preserve the pregnant person’s health or life. The following month, the North Dakota legislature passed the amended ban, SB 2150, that was at issue in Tuesday’s decision.

The court’s denial of the injunction is preliminary, and the court has not yet ruled on whether the ban violates the state constitution. “The Court specifically notes that it will certainly have to decide the ultimate constitutional issues in this case following the presentation of testimony and evidence to the Court,” Romanick wrote in the decision. “The parties, thus far, have only presented written and oral arguments to the Court. The Court’s decision in this order in no way limits the Court’s ultimate decisions in this matter.”

A jury trial is currently set for August 2024.