BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether the state's sole abortion clinic can use drugs to terminate pregnancies, the first challenge before the state's highest court to a recent raft of abortion restrictions considered the most restrictive in the nation.
The state's attorney general's office, which defends state laws against court challenges, wants the North Dakota Supreme Court to reverse a July ruling by a district judge that found the 2011 law aimed at limiting abortion drugs violates the state constitution. East Central District Judge Wickham Corwin called the law "simply wrongheaded" following a three-day trial in April. He'd previously granted an injunction preventing it from taking effect.
Besides the 2011 law, four other abortion restriction measures passed the Republican-controlled Legislature this year and signed into law by GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple. All are meant to challenge the boundaries of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.
Assistant Attorney General Douglas Bahr told justices during the hour-long hearing that the North Dakota Constitution doesn't guarantee women the right to have an abortion. But an attorney representing the Red River Women's Clinic, told justices that the state Supreme Court always has recognized that the North Dakota Constitution affords at least the same protections as the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit argues that outlawing one of two drugs used in medication abortions would, in essence, eliminate the procedure altogether and illegally restrict abortion rights. The clinic is North Dakota's only abortion provider.
Autumn Katz, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping the clinic with its legal challenges, argued that the state constitution is a "living, breathing" document that is not "static or frozen in time."
She said the North Dakota law "violates a woman's right to equal protection and a doctor's right to equal protection."
Lawyers for the clinic have said that the lawsuit is similar to a case in Oklahoma, where last year that state's high court found a law restricting the use of abortion-inducing drugs was unconstitutional. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed it last month.
Medication abortions at the Red River Women's Clinic involve the use of a combination of two drugs, Mifeprex and misoprostol. The North Dakota law maintains that the use of any drug to cause an abortion must meet "the protocol tested and authorized" by the Food and Drug Administration and outlined on the drug's label. Misoprostol is not labeled as an abortion-inducing drug and therefore could not be used by the clinic.
Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker told The Associated Press that the clinic performs about 1,300 abortions annually, and about 20 percent of the procedures are done with drugs and not surgically.
Court documents say the clinic performs abortions for women who are pregnant for up to 16 weeks, or 112 days. The clinic does medication abortions up to 63 days into a woman's pregnancy.
Katz told justices the abortion drugs used by the clinic are widely accepted by the medical community.
"How medicines are prescribed is better left to physicians, not politicians," she said.
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