North Dakota court keeps abortion ban in place for now, even for those facing serious health risks

January 24, 2024

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There will be no relief for emergency abortion care as abortion ban works through state court

Today, a North Dakota state court denied a request to block the state’s extreme abortion ban in situations where an abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of a pregnant person. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the challenge in 2023, arguing that the strict exceptions in the ban are too narrow and violate the state constitution. The Court’s denial of the injunction is based on the injunctive relief sought and is not a ruling that the ban is constitutional or consistent with pregnant people’s rights or wellbeing. The decision is preliminary, and the court will issue a final ruling after a hearing on the merits of the case.

“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,” the decision reads. “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.”

“Though we are disappointed by today’s decision, the court did not reach the constitutional questions at the heart of this case, and we remain confident that we will prevail after the court hears further evidence of how this law harms pregnant North Dakotans,” says Meetra Mehdizadeh, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In March 2023, the North Dakota Supreme Court blocked the state’s “trigger ban,” because it did not allow for life- or health-preserving abortions. The Court held that the “North Dakota Constitution explicitly provides all citizens of North Dakota the right of enjoying and defending life and pursuing and obtaining safety. These rights implicitly include the right to obtain an abortion to preserve the woman’s life or health.” The following month, North Dakota lawmakers passed another total abortion ban, which was the ban at issue in this decision.

“This decision is truly disappointing; North Dakotans can’t be granted even temporary relief as the court hears our case?” says Tammi Kromenaker, Director of Red River Women’s Clinic, a plaintiff in the case. “I hate to think that someone is harmed as a result of this denial. Abortion is a medical procedure. It is not a crime. No one should be denied health care they are entitled to.”

In the lawsuit, Plaintiffs argue that the trigger ban is unconstitutional under the North Dakota Constitution, which protects the right of pregnant North Dakotans to obtain abortions to preserve their lives and health.

Fourteen states currently have total abortion bans. While most of those bans have very narrow exceptions for the life of the pregnant patient, they have not been working in practice. Doctors are unclear who qualifies for the exceptions, and they are terrified to perform any abortions as they face years in prison for violating the bans. The Center has filed lawsuits in Idaho, Texas, Tennessee, and North Dakota to clarify the “medical emergency” exceptions written into the bans in those states and broaden the circumstances in which physicians can provide medically necessary abortions.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and Gender Justice, on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, its medical director Dr. Kathryn Eggleston, Dr. Ana Tobiasz, Dr. Erica Hofland, Dr. Collette Lessard, and Dr. Brendan Boe.


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