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Emily Welker, Published June 19 2013

ND judge allows new complaint to abortion lawsuit

FARGO – A Cass County judge ruled on Wednesday that a challenge to a new state law restricting abortion can be added to a lawsuit contesting a law passed in 2011, a law he will strike down as unconstitutional.

The Red River Women’s Clinic had asked to add the challenge to a law passed this March to its original 2011 lawsuit. It claims the requirement for all doctors who perform abortions at the clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is unconstitutional.

Judge Wickham Corwin has permanently blocked the 2011 law challenged by the clinic’s original lawsuit, which sought to limit drug-induced abortions on the grounds that one of the drugs used was an off-label application.

In a memorandum filed with the court June 5, the Red River Women’s Clinic said that the new law requiring admitting privileges of any doctor was similar to the requirement as the 2011 law demanded.

The clinic said in court filings that the 2011 law said that any doctor who gave the drug Mifeprex to a woman would have to be an admitting doctor at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and able to treat her there should she have medical complications.

This made it essentially the same as the newly passed law, and both should be conjoined into a single case, the clinic argued.

Attorneys for the clinic, North Dakota’s only abortion clinic, also argued that adding the new law to the old lawsuit would simplify and speed the legal process.

Attorneys for the state asked the judge to deny the motion to join the new law to the prior case, arguing that adding the new com-plaint would create a new cause of action and would delay the answers the state sought in the original case.

In a statement released by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is proving legal assistance to the Fargo clinic, staff attorney Autumn Katz said, “We are pleased that the judge has allowed our legal challenge to the state’s medically unwarranted admitting privileges law to supplement an existing lawsuit against North Dkaota’s unconstitutional restrictions on medication abortion. Because the judge has already considered many of the facts about the safety and quality of care provided at the Red River Women’s Clinic, we believe today’s decision will expedite the litigation and ultimately result in both laws being permanently struck down as unconstitutional.”

In a written statement, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem didn’t address Corwin’s decision to allow the new law to join the lawsuit of the old law, but he said he was glad Corwin reaffirmed that he plans to strike down the 2011 law.

“It’s appropriate for the judge to certify the ruling on the original lawsuit so we can obtain a final ruling from the North Dakota Supreme Court at the earliest opportunity.”

The admitting-privileges law is one of four new anti-abortion law passed earlier this year by North Dakota lawmakers. The Center for Reproductive Rights has said it also plans to challenge two of the other laws, including a ban on abortions when a fetal heart-beat can be detected – which can happen as early in a pregnancy as six weeks.