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Ryan Johnson, Published July 26 2013

ND fighting 'useless battle' defending new abortion limits, says founder of Center for Reproductive Rights

FARGO – The founder of an organization challenging one of the abortion restrictions approved by the Legislature this spring said the state is fighting a “useless battle” that will cost taxpayers with little chance of being taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Janet Benshoof, a native of Detroit Lakes, Minn., human rights lawyer and president of the Global Justice Center, was in Fargo on Friday to help her friend, Judge Myron Bright, celebrate his 45th year on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 1992, Benshoof founded the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights that is representing North Dakota’s lone abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, in a lawsuit challenging a law approved earlier this year that would outlaw the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

She said she’s seen North Dakota “transform” over the decades, especially with strong women getting elected to the state government and U.S. Senate. But she said that change has been slower in the Legislature, which she said seems to be trying to respond to popular opinion that really doesn’t reflect the feelings of most North Dakotans.

“After all, who are all the young women or the older women or the sick women who are getting abortions in North Dakota?” she said. “They’re your daughters; your family; your cousins; they’re victims; they’re not victims; they’re young. You don’t have people from New York coming to Fargo, North Dakota, to have abortions. It’s not like it’s a mecca.”

During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers approved several other restrictions on abortion, including a ban on having the procedure because a fetus has a genetic defect, a law that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks and a requirement that a doctor performing abortions must be a physician with hospital admitting privileges.

Benshoof said these laws seem to go against the identity of North Dakota as a fiscally conservative, small government state – both because of the high legal fees necessary to defend these laws, and because it suggests a “retrograde” view by legislators trying to take down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that limited restrictions on abortion.

“North Dakota shouldn’t be known for having passed the worst law in the country for women,” she said.

Benshoof said the Supreme Court is “not immune” from public opinion, and said the issue of abortion is increasingly a political loser as the voting power of women and minorities continues to rise. She said the justices would be unlikely to take up the “politically untenable” debate to uphold North Dakota’s new laws if they rise to that level.

“Look at the court on gay rights,” she said. “Would you have ever thought 10 years ago that they’d be supporting gay marriage? Never. I mean, now they would never outlaw a gay marriage statute.”

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Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587