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Fargo clinic files lawsuit challenging North Dakota abortion ban

The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo announced Thursday, July 7, it had filed a legal challenge to North Dakota's ban on abortion, which Attorney General Drew Wrigley has said will become active

Tammi Kromenaker.1
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic, on June 24, 2022.
Chris Flynn/The Forum
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BISMARCK — North Dakota's only abortion clinic has filed a lawsuit against the state over a ban on the procedure due to take effect later this month.

The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo announced Thursday, July 7, it had filed a legal challenge to North Dakota's ban on abortion, which Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley has said will become active July 28.

In 2007, the North Dakota Legislature passed a "trigger" bill sponsored by former Democratic Rep. James Kerzman that would ban abortion in the state within 30 days if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Wrigley set off the 30-day countdown last month by certifying that the high court allowed states to prohibit abortion in its Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision.

Filed by Bismarck lawyer Tom Dickson, the Center for Reproductive Rights and a team of New York attorneys working pro bono, the clinic's lawsuit alleges the abortion ban would infringe on North Dakotans' rights to life, liberty, safety and happiness guaranteed by the state constitution.

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The 19-page lawsuit also disputes the effective date of the trigger law, arguing that while the Supreme Court issued an opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, it has not issued a formal judgment to a lower court — a step that takes 25 days or more. The complaint says Wrigley jumped the gun by requiring the clinic to close before the judgment comes out.

The suit asks a district court judge to kick back the ban's effective date and to block the ban from taking effect at all.

Wrigley said in a statement his office is reviewing the complaint. He added that he will not comment further on the lawsuit until the state's formal response is filed with the court.

Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick, who is also named as a defendant in the suit, told Forum News Service he received the complaint Wednesday night and will respond to it after a review.

Earlier this week, a Mississippi court declined to block the state's near-total abortion ban from taking effect.

Red River Women's Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker said North Dakotans "deserve the right to access essential health care" like abortion.

“We have faced relentless attacks from North Dakota lawmakers who have long wanted us gone. But we will fight this draconian ban like the other outrageous bans and restrictions that came before it," Kromenaker said in a statement.

Christopher Dodson, an attorney who works as the director of North Dakota Catholic Conference, said the lawsuit is "just grasping at straws."

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He pointed to a state Supreme Court ruling from 2014, in which a restriction on abortion was not deemed unconstitutional by the requisite four of five justices. Dodson said that case already decided that abortion is not a right guaranteed by the state constitution.

Dodson said the complaint's contention over the ban's effective date is also invalid, noting that lawmakers put the 30-day delay in the trigger law to account for this exact situation.

With the ban looming, Kromenaker said the clinic plans to move over the Minnesota border to Moorhead where the procedure is likely to remain legal. The clinic has received more than $900,000 in donations via an online fundraiser since the Supreme Court's decision.

The state's abortion prohibition would make it a Class C felony for anyone to perform an abortion, unless a pregnant female performs an abortion on herself. A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Performing an abortion would still be allowed if the mother's life is in danger and in cases of rape or incest.

The Fargo clinic performed 1,171 abortions in 2020, including 833 on North Dakota residents.

A dozen other states have similar trigger laws, including South Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization, estimated a total of 26 states are "certain or likely" to ban abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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