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By Robb Jeffries, Forum News Service, Published June 20 2013

Organizers of abortion petition seek extension

GRAND FORKS – The sponsoring committee of a petition calling for a statewide vote on three anti-abortion laws passed in the last North Dakota legislative session intends to file for an extension on the petition date, but Secretary of State Al Jaeger said such an extension would be unconstitutional.

Committee chairman Gary Hangsleben, of Grand Forks, was unsure whether petition supporters had obtained the necessary 13,452 signatures to force a ballot measure. He said he hoped to have somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 by the Monday deadline.

“If we’re denied (the extension), we’ll fight it and bring it to the North Dakota Supreme Court,” Hangsleben said. “It could be dragged out for years. Our vote could be resolved in six months, one year.”

According to the North Dakota Constitution, “A referendum petition may be submitted only within ninety days after the filing of the measure with the secretary of state.” Jaeger said the committee was given this information in a packet when the committee submitted the petition in March.

If the petition is approved, the measure would appear on the 2014 ballot.

Hangsleben said several groups and individuals have made the process of acquiring signatures difficult.

“It’s been unbelievable the resistance we have had from some groups,” he said. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been experiencing it.”

One such person opposed to the petition is Tammi Kromenaker, director of Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. Backed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the clinic has filed a lawsuit challenging a 2011 abortion law. Legal representatives for the clinic have filed to include a 2013 law – which requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic they practice at – with the 2011 law ruling.

“Red River Women’s Clinic deeply appreciates the support we have received from the community,” Kromenaker said in an April statement. “However, we do not believe that a ballot referral is the right approach at this time.”

She said the petition committee’s efforts have had “no effect on our legal process” in challenging the 2013 laws.

Hangsleben said since the petition process began, he has been the subject to threats of litigation from Kromenaker and her representatives, among others.

“We want the people of North Dakota to debate the issue and have a say in the issue,” he said. “She just wants to have her high-powered New York attorneys to figure it out. We just want to bring it down to the grassroots and have the people of North Dakota vote on it.”

Kromenaker declined to comment further Thursday.