North Dakota Abortion Law Trial Off as Case Settled

Abortion-rights advocates and North Dakota settled a lawsuit over a requirement that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic, according to state court records.

A trial scheduled for today before Judge Wickham Corwin in Fargo was canceled, according to the court’s online docket. Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem confirmed the cancellation in an e-mail yesterday. She declined to provide additional information.

“We are in settlement negotiations in the case,” Autumn Katz, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, said in an e-mailed statement. The trial has been removed from the court’s docket, she said.

States that have passed similar hospital-privilege statutes and are defending them in court include Texas. The state won a federal appeals court ruling allowing it to enforce the law as it seeks to overturn a trial judge’s ruling striking down the measure as unconstitutional.

In Wisconsin, a U.S. appeals court upheld a judge’s ruling temporarily blocking the mandate. That case is scheduled for trial May 27. An Alabama judge on Feb. 7 heard argument from lawyers for that state and the American Civil Liberties Union over whether its law should stand.

Earlier Lawsuit

In North Dakota, the Center for Reproductive Rights last year won Corwin’s permission to add its challenge to the 30-mile (48-kilometer) mandate to an already-pending lawsuit it filed over other state abortion regulations in 2011.

The hospital privileges rule, signed into law last year by Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple, was blocked by Corwin on July 31, the day before it was scheduled to take effect.

Fargo’s Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s only abortion facility, would otherwise have been forced to close, according to its attorneys.

“The individual interests at state are both fundamental and constitutional” the Fargo judge said in his July 31 ruling temporarily blocking the North Dakota law. “Although the state has an interest in protecting women’s health when necessary, the relative safety and efficacy of early abortion procedures gives the state little valid interest in the regulation of these procedures.”

North Dakota appealed an earlier ruling by Corwin, striking down 2011 legislation regulating drug-induced abortions. That appeal is still pending before the state’s Supreme Court.

The admitting privileges case is MKB Management Corp., d/b/a Red River Women’s Clinic v. Burdick, 09-2011-CV-02205, North Dakota District Court, East Central Judicial District, Cass County (Fargo).

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