Center for Reproductive Rights Files Lawsuit in North Dakota to Block Nation's Earliest and Most extreme Abortion Ban

Legal challenge takes on unconstitutional laws outlawing abortions as early as six weeks and banning the procedure based on sex or genetic fetal anomaly

(PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in federal court today against two unconstitutional North Dakota laws, one banning abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy—before some women even know they are pregnant—and another outlawing abortions for reasons of sex selection or genetic fetal anomaly.

Today's lawsuit, MKB Management, Inc.  v. Burdick, filed in the U.S. District Court in Bismarck on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic—North Dakota’s  only abortion clinic—and its medical director, argues that the laws clearly violate the U.S. Constitution and place women’s health in danger by banning pre-viability abortions.

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Plain and simple, these laws will endanger women’s lives and deny them rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to all Americans under the U.S. Constitution. We intend to stop them from going into effect before that happens.

“In their scorched-earth campaign to rid North Dakota of its only reproductive health clinic that provides abortions and effectively end safe, legal abortion in the state, the politicians who advanced these laws made their hostility to women clear.

“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.

“They would relegate the women of North Dakota to a second class of citizens whose rights and access to reproductive health care are not equal to those who live in states committed to defending the rights of their citizens rather than attacking them.

“And they seek to interfere directly in personal, private medical decisions that the Constitution and more than 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent guarantee to women as a fundamental right.

“We are confident that the court will see these laws as the unconstitutional assault on reproductive rights that they are and prevent them from ever going into effect.”

The lawsuit challenges HB 1456, which would make virtually all abortions in the state illegal after the point at which cardiac activity can be detected in a pregnancy (as early as six weeks), and HB 1305, which bans abortions for reasons of sex-selection and for genetic fetal anomaly—the first of its kind in the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability. Furthermore, everywhere that pre-viability abortion bans have been challenged in state and federal courts, they have been blocked.

“North Dakota cannot deny women their constitutional right to have an abortion any more than they can take away the right to free speech or the right to practice one’s religion,” said Janet Crepps, senior counsel for the Center of Reproductive Rights and lead attorney in the legal challenge filed today. “The Red River Women’s Clinic should not have to go to court year in and year out to protect indisputable rights of its patients.”   

Red River Women’s Clinic is the only abortion provider in North Dakota and provides a range of reproductive health services to women in North Dakota, as well as to women who travel from neighboring states like South Dakota and Minnesota.

“Such an extreme ban on abortion would have a devastating impact on women in North Dakota and our neighboring states, especially those who do not have the resources to travel hundreds of miles to access reproductive health care,” said Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic.

Following a lawsuit filed by the Center and the ACLU, a ban on abortion at 20 weeks LMP (18 weeks post fertilization) in Arizona was permanently struck down by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 21. A similar law in Idaho was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district judge in March 2013.  On May 17, a federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction against a 2013 Arkansas law that would ban abortions beginning at 12 weeks and a state court temporarily blocked a 20-week ban in Georgia in December 2012.

Just last month, the Center took legal action to block North Dakota Senate Bill 2305, a 2013 bill designed to shut down Red River Women’s Clinic and effectively end safe and legal abortion in the state by imposing medically unwarranted requirements that any physician performing abortions in the state must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. That challenge would supplements the Center’s 2011 lawsuit against a North Dakota law imposing onerous restrictions on medication abortion and requiring the clinic to have a medically unnecessary written backup agreement to handle emergencies at a local hospital —which a state judge recently announced following a three-day trial he would permanently strike as unconstitutional.