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Published January 27, 2012, 11:30 PM

Judge delays ruling in North Dakota abortion drugs law

Restraining order on drugs that induce abortions remains in place for now
FARGO – After hearing more than two and a half hours of arguments Friday on the legality of a state law regulating drugs that cause abortions, Judge Wickham Corwin decided he was in no position to rule yet.

FARGO – After hearing more than two and a half hours of arguments Friday on the legality of a state law regulating drugs that cause abortions, Judge Wickham Corwin decided he was in no position to rule yet.

An attorney for a national women’s reproductive rights group – on behalf of the Red River Valley Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the only abortion provider in the state – argued at the hearing in Cass County District Court that the law is unconstitutional, mainly because it bans abortions for some women.

Specifically, the law requires that the use of any drug to induce abortions must meet FDA protocols, and that its intended use be designated on the label.

Misoprostol – one of the two drugs administered in combination to induce abortions – is labeled for the treatment of stomach ulcers, so the law bars its use in medication abortions.

Suzanne Novak, attorney for the reproductive rights group, argued medication abortions and misoprostol have been approved by the FDA, and the procedure is a safe and inexpensive option for women who want to get abortions.

“It’s not even rational to ban medication abortion when no one is disputing it is safe,” she said.

Novak pointed to a study that shows 20 percent of women who get abortions look to get a medication abortion, some for specific health-related issues.

“The day the law goes into effect, women will be harmed or burdened who want it,” Novak said.

Kirsten Franzen, an assistant state’s attorney general arguing in support of the law, disputed that the law limits abortions.

“The surgical option is still on the table,” she said. “The fact of the matter is if a woman wants an abortion, this law does not burden her.”

Even if 20 percent of women may seek a medication abortion, Franzen said there’s no evidence that prove that those 20 percent would be unable to get a surgical abortion instead.

“How do you evaluate an undue burden in the absence of facts?” she asked.

Though he initially said he hoped to issue an immediate ruling, Corwin said the case was more complicated than he thought and asked for more information before making a decision.

Additional briefs are due in two weeks.

A temporary restraining order preventing the law from taking effect was issued in July, less than two weeks before the law was set to become effective. It remains in place until the legal challenge is settled.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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