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Center Challenges New Abortion Restriction in North Dakota

Law Imposes Confusing New Restrictions on Abortion

Today, the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, asked a North Dakota court to block enforcement of a vague and confusing abortion restriction which would seriously limit women’s ability to obtain abortion in the state.  The law would require Red River Women’s Clinic, which is located in Fargo, North Dakota, to give a woman the opportunity to view an ultrasound 24 hours before she obtained an abortion. The Fargo facility already performs ultrasounds on all of its patients, but the law also includes a confusing provision requiring that the “auscultation of the fetal heart tone,” which makes the fetal heartbeat audible, be consistent with “standard medical practice in the community” without making it clear whether or not the facility is required to offer the woman the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat. The cost of the equipment needed to listen to the fetal heart would impose a high financial burden on the facility. In addition, there is no “standard medical practice” for the provision of fetal heart tone auscultation in connection with abortion services because, unlike ultrasounds, auscultation or listening to the fetal heartbeat is rarely, if ever done as part of abortion services.

“This law does nothing to enhance the safety of abortion care and in the end, just subjects the only clinic in North Dakota to strict criminal liability for failing to conform to a medical standard that doesn’t exist,” said Suzanne Stolz, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The staff at Red River would either be forced to choose between stopping providing abortions altogether—in effect, denying women in the state access to abortion—or risking criminal prosecution to continue providing abortion services.”

The law is scheduled to take effect on August 1. Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion facility in the state, is asking the court to issue a temporary injunction preventing the law from taking effect while the court reviews the legal challenge.  The Center filed its legal challenge against the new law on Wednesday.  It is now seeking a temporary injunction.

The plaintiff in this case, MKB Management Corp. vs. Stenehjem, et al., is Red River Women’s Clinic on behalf of itself, its staff, and patients. They are represented by Stolz, staff attorney in the U.S. legal program and Janet Crepps, deputy director of the U.S. legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights and Joseph Turman of DeMars & Turman LTD.