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Legal challenge filed over N.D. ban on post-heartbeat abortions

BISMARCK — Legal counsel for the state’s only abortion clinic filed a lawsuit today in federal court here against North Dakota and the Cass County State’s Attorney over two recently passed anti-abortion laws.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, filed a lawsuit arguing laws that prohibit an abortion once a heartbeat is detected and abortions on the basis of gender or genetic abnormality are unconstitutional.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick are named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit comes a day after a failed attempt to refer the laws to a statewide vote, and joins the clinic’s May 14 lawsuit challenging another law passed law earlier this year requiring physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Supporters of abortion rights have said the heartbeat law could outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The new prohibitions on abortion, passed by state lawmakers earlier this year, would go into effect Aug. 1. The lawsuit seeks a court order to stop them from being enforced until their legality is settled in court.  

In a news release, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the center is confident the court will see these laws as an unconstitutional assault on reproductive rights.

“In their scorched-earth campaign to rid North Dakota of its only reproductive health clinic that provides abortions and effectively end safe, legal abortions in the state, the politicians who advanced these laws made their hostility to women clear,” Northup said. “In the service of their extremist ideology, these hostile politicians would ban abortion at a time before a woman may even know she is pregnant – and put the lives and health of women who have decided to end a pregnancy at risk of great harm by denying them safe and legal means of doing so.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed all three anti-abortion bills March 26, calling them a “legitimate attempt” to discover “the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

The landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibits bans on abortion prior to viability, at about the 24-week mark of a pregnancy.  

Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, championed both of the challenged laws during the legislative session.

Grande said today’s lawsuit isn’t a surprise as the clinic vowed during the legislative session to litigate if the bills passed.

“They said they were going to have a lawsuit the whole time, there’s nothing new there, but it still comes down to the fact we have people like Gosnell out there and no checks and balance in the abortion industry,” said Grande, referring to Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor found guilty of killing three infants after birth and overdosing one woman during an abortion. “We’re finding out about babies and women dying yet the Center continues their lawsuits.”

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