North Dakota passed a law in 2011 that would effectively ban all medication abortions in the state. Even if the law did not completely ban this type of abortion care, it would require doctors to abandon current evidence-based protocols for providing medication abortions and instead follow a medically obsolete method of medication abortion. As a result, a woman seeking a medication abortion would be forced to take three times more medication than recommended by the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and would be required to make additional unnecessary visits to North Dakota’s only abortion clinic.
Medication abortion (a combination of the medications mifepristone and misoprostol) is a safe and effective alternative to surgical abortion that can be used by women who are in the first 9 to 10 weeks of pregnancy. Women in the U.S. have been safely undergoing medication abortions since 2000, when the FDA first approved mifepristone. In fact, one out of four women in the U.S. early enough in pregnancy to use medication abortion as an alternative to surgical abortion chooses this method. Since the approval of mifepristone, newer, evidence-based regimens have been proven to be safer, more effective, and less expensive than earlier regimens. Laws that require abortion providers to use outdated protocols when providing medication abortions are contrary to current medical standards, and the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have opposed them. By requiring the provision of medication abortion to follow an obsolete protocol, state politicians deny women the advantages of years of physicians’ practical experience and scientific research. This not only forces outmoded health care on women, but also intrudes into the doctor-patient relationship.
Plaintiff(s): Red River Women's Clinic and Dr. Kathryn Eggleston
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Joseph Turman, Turman &, Lang, Ltd., Jared Bobrow and Carmen Bremer, Weil, Gotshal &, Manges LLP
The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law in state court on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic, a physician, and the clinic’s patients. After a trial in 2013, the Court struck down the law, ruling that the “inalienable rights protected by the Constitution of North Dakota must include a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy,” and that the North Dakota medication abortion restrictions violated these rights. The Court stated that any concerns about the safety of medication abortion had either been “exaggerated or contrived,” and that the unconstitutional restrictions “stand in the way of women’s health.” The Court added that this law would “force physicians to depart from well-established standards of care [and] to abandon the most fundamental tenets of their profession . . ., and to provide patients with illogical and potentially tragic instructions regarding the availability of any follow-up treatment that may be required on an emergent basis.”
The State appealed to the Supreme Court of North Dakota. On October 28, 2014, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment that had permanently enjoined the law.
A supplemental complaint regarding SB 2305’s requirement of hospital admitting privileges was added to this case in June 2013. That case has since settled and more information can be found here.