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ND Supreme Court considers appeal of medical abortion law

BISMARCK — North Dakota’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday on a state law that would limit the use of drugs in abortions, a law passed in 2011 and struck down by a Cass County judge this year as unconstitutional.

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Attorneys for Fargo’s Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion clinic in the state, argue that the law prohibiting the off-label use of drugs in medication abortions is effectively a ban on that type of abortion.

In a ruling following an April trial, Cass County District Court Judge Wickham Corwin agreed — and later allowed a challenge to another abortion-limiting state law to be attached to the lawsuit. Corwin also issued an injunction blocking enforcement of that law, which was passed this year and requires doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles.

Attorneys for the state of North Dakota appealed Corwin’s decision to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the 2011 law, HB 1297, does not violate the state constitution.

“We take issue that the court applied federal law, basically applying it into the state court,” said Douglas Bahr, an assistant attorney general. “There is no right under North Dakota state law to abortion.”

The attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the clinic, told the court it had often recognized that people have a right to make medical decisions.

“A woman’s personal autonomy requires the right to make parenting decisions and the right to decide whether to have an abortion,” said attorney Autumn Katz.

The court took the case under advisement.

The law requiring admitting privileges was one of four abortion restrictions the Legislature passed this year. One of the four prohibits abortions past six weeks — viewed as one of the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has also filed suit against that law, which is blocked by a temporary injunction.