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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 09 2013

Attorney general seeks $400,000 to fight abortion litigation

BISMARCK – The state’s top attorney is asking lawmakers to include $400,000 in his budget to fight any litigation resulting from passage of what some say are the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the country.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday that the figure is an estimate of what he thinks he will need to defend any or all of the laws that prohibit abortion based on gender or genetic abnormality, prohibit abortion if a heartbeat is detected, and require physicians who perform abortions to have admitting and staff privileges at a nearby hospital.

He said it’s difficult to know exactly how much is needed because they could all be grouped into one lawsuit or filed separately. The amount of time a case may take is also unknown, which also drives up the litigation fees, he said.

Stenehjem used historical state data and visited with the Arkansas and Idaho attorneys general, who lately have litigated anti-abortion measures.

“I reached out to them to help get a handle on what the fees might be,” he said. “It helped me to form the basis for my estimate.”

Stenehjem said litigation is questionable since Gary Hangsleben, 67, of Grand Forks, has asked Secretary of State Al Jaeger for a petition for each bill to refer them to a statewide vote in June 2014.

Jaeger is waiting for Stenehjem to approve the wording that will go on the top of the petition.

Jaeger has until Thursday to send Hangsleben the petition wording. Hangsle-ben’s group will have until July 24 to obtain 13,452 signatures.

If there is a vote that rejects the laws, there won’t be a lawsuit. If the laws survive, Stenehjem expects a lawsuit to proceed.

The legal challenge would come from the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo and its legal counsel, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the women’s clinic, said no action has been taken toward the three measures.

“The center is very calm and particular in the way they proceed,” she said. “It’s so early, nothing has been done.”

The state is being sued over an anti-abortion bill that passed during the 2011 legislative session that prohibits a medicated abortion.

“I thought the lawsuit would proceed a lot more quickly. Two years since it was enacted and we have yet to have a trial in district court,” Stenehjem said. “It underlines that litigation can be lengthy, especially complicated and controversial measures like this.”