North Dakota’s Highest Court Upholds Unconstitutional Restrictions on Medication Abortion

Court ignores threats to women’s health and safety

(PRESS RELEASE) North Dakota’s law severely restricting medication abortion—a non-surgical method of ending a pregnancy in its earliest stages—has been upheld by the state Supreme Court, allowing the regulations to go into effect immediately. 

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

“Today’s decision directly conflicts with courts across the U.S. that have rejected the idea that politicians have any place in the practice of medicine or in women’s deeply personal decisions about their pregnancies, their health, their families, and their future.

“The politicians pushing for these unconstitutional and downright dangerous restrictions have had only one goal in mind:  prevent North Dakota women—whom already face incredible obstacles to the severely limited reproductive health care services in their state—from exercising their legal right to abortion.

“We will continue to relentlessly defend the reproductive rights of all women, to expose the terrible harm that anti-choice laws like this cause in countless women’s lives, and to use the momentum we have built to seek stronger legal protections against these assaults on women’s health and safety.”

The Center for Reproductive Rightsalong with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and Turman & Lang Ltdfiled a challenge in July 2011 to North Dakota’s unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic—the state’s only abortion clinic—arguing that the law denies women access to an alternative to surgical abortion widely recognized as safe and effective by medical experts and organizations worldwide.  Women in the United States have been safely and legally using medication abortion for over a decade, with approximately one in four women who make the decision to end a pregnancy in the first nine weeks choosing this method.  The law unconstitutionally restricts medication abortion in such a way that that it possibly bans medication abortion altogether, or at best permits doctors to use it following an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol.  The law was temporarily blocked before it could take effect in July 2011, and was permanently blocked by a state district court in April 2013.

In 2013, the North Dakota Legislature enacted an additional five anti-women’s health care laws restricting access to abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed lawsuits on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic challenging a ban on abortion as early as six weeks—which was permanently blocked in April 2014 by a federal district court judge—and a medically unnecessary requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles—which has since been settled.

Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found a similar ban in Arizona unconstitutional, calling the law “a burden on women’s access to abortion.”  And in November 2013, the US Supreme Court dismissed Oklahoma’s appeal of a state Supreme Court decision finding that the state’s ban on medication abortion was unconstitutional, allowing the law to remain permanently blocked. 

Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471)—a bill that would prohibit states like North Dakota from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.