Judge rules in favor of North Dakota's lone abortion clinic, temporarily blocks 'trigger' ban
The order gives the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo more time to make its transition to a new location across the Minnesota border in Moorhead.
FARGO — A judge has intervened on behalf of North Dakota’s only abortion clinic, issuing an order that temporarily prohibits the state’s abortion “trigger” ban from taking effect.
Judge Bruce Romanick of the South Central Judicial District granted the order to the Red River Women’s Clinic on Wednesday, July 27, one day before the state’s near complete ban on abortion was to begin.
In his order, the judge said North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley “prematurely attempted to execute the triggering language” of the state's trigger law that was passed in 2007.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, said she and staff are relieved.
“We will continue to ready our Minnesota site and provide abortions in North Dakota," she said, in reference to the clinic's impending move across the Red River to Moorhead.
"The trigger ban will eventually go into effect, but for now, abortion remains legal in North Dakota,” Kromenaker said, in a text message to The Forum.
The judge said Wrigley’s certification was “improper” until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its certified judgment on Tuesday, July 26.
In response, Wrigley said he would officially re-certify the high court’s judgment and deliver it to the state Legislative Council before 6 p.m. Wednesday.
It means the clock begins anew on the trigger ban, with a 30-day countdown starting Wednesday, he said. The new date for the abortion ban to take effect in North Dakota is Friday, Aug. 26, he said.
Wrigley told Forum News Service on Thursday his office is weighing its appeal options after Romanick's order.
The trigger law was meant to take effect within 30 days if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which the high court did on June 24, though the decision was not certified until July 26.
Earlier this month, the clinic filed a lawsuit against Wrigley and Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick, alleging an abortion ban would infringe on North Dakotans' rights to life, liberty, safety and happiness guaranteed by the state constitution.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the clinic, said abortions will continue at the Red River Women’s Clinic as the case proceeds.
Meetra Mehdizadeh, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, released a statement that said in part:
"We're relieved that a North Dakota state court has blocked its devastating trigger ban for now. We will do everything in our power to fight this ban and keep abortion accessible in North Dakota for as long as possible."
Had the judge not intervened, the last abortions at the Fargo clinic would have been Wednesday.
North Dakota'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.
Activity outside the clinic Wednesday was as usual with clinic volunteers escorting patients into the building and abortion protesters holding signs or quietly praying on the sidewalk.
A female passenger in a passing pickup truck yelled out “Our bodies, our choice,” and a man across the street played “Amazing Grace” on a set of bagpipes.
Before news of the judge’s order came out, clinic escort Diana Goble of Moorhead held out hope for a ruling in the clinic’s favor.
“I would love that … to show that what the Supreme Court has decided doesn't reflect the actual majority of this country,” she said.
Sara Watson Curry used a day off of work to hand-deliver a donation to the clinic’s Women in Need abortion access fund, which helps people seeking abortion in North Dakota pay for transportation, lodging, child care and food on the day of their appointment.
She called the state’s impending abortion ban “horrifying.”
“Removing safe abortion doesn't eliminate abortion. It will just ruin lives," Watson Curry said.
Mary Mann of Fargo paced quietly in front of the clinic, holding rosary beads in her hands. She said she’s been waiting for the day abortion is banned in the state.
“I've been praying for that since the beginning of when abortions first became legal in North Dakota,” she said.
Jim Larson of Fargo prayed silently on the sidewalk.
“I don't understand how there can be so much disparity between those that believe life is precious and those that believe that life is disposable,” he said.
Kromenaker has not disclosed the location of the new clinic in Moorhead, which requires extensive remodeling of heating, cooling, plumbing and security systems, along with fencing.
An online fundraiser meant to assist the clinic with those costs had amassed nearly $975,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.
Forum News Service reporter Jeremy Turley contributed to this report.