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Emily Welker, Published July 31 2013

Cass judge blocks law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges

FARGO – A Cass County judge issued an injunction Wednesday blocking a state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges in local hospitals, less than 24 hours before the law would have gone into effect.

Opponents argued the law would shut down the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s only abortion clinic.

Judge Wickham Corwin issued the injunction at a hearing in Cass County District Court as part of a lawsuit filed by the Red River Women’s Clinic against the state of North Dakota.

“Time is obviously of the essence,” he said.

The law, Senate Bill 2305, was signed into law March 26, and would have gone into effect at midnight today. It requires all physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

Doug Anderson, an attorney with the state attorney general’s office who was defending a law, said the state preferred to use most of its arguments at trial. However, he pointed out that there was a case in which one patient at the clinic needed to be sent to the hospital after her abortion.

In granting the injunction, Corwin said one patient needing hospital care among the thousands of procedures performed at the clinic meant complications are a rarity.

“It seems to me that one case requiring hospital care is a superlative record rather than a cause for concern,” he said.

Corwin concluded his ruling by saying that allowing the law to be enforced before the trial would create irreparable harm – to the women who would have to travel out of state for abortions, and to clinic employees who would lose their jobs.

He also said the law infringed on the constitutional rights of the public, which he said was “of the highest order – and as a judge, it is my duty to defend those rights.”

Corwin said he found the state’s constitution guaranteed a person the right to terminate a pregnancy before it was viable, and that under that finding, the clinic was likely to prevail in a trial.

The state has argued, and Corwin acknowledged it will likely continue to argue on appeal, that no such right exists under the state constitution.

Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker was surrounded after the ruling by abortion rights activists outside the courthouse who had stopped by as part of a nationwide tour of states that have only one clinic that provides abortions.

“We’re pleased that tomorrow our doors will be open,” said Kromenaker, who praised the judge’s ruling for its “strong wording” on a constitutional right to abortion in the state.

She said the day also provided a rallying point for anti-abortion activists, whom she said had been out in even greater numbers than usual in front of the clinic at 512 1st Ave. N.

“We had to call for extra escorts – there was a much bigger group of protesters today,” she said.

Kromenaker said the timing of Corwin’s ruling was ironic because Wednesday was the clinic’s 15th anniversary.

“It’s welcome, and it’s heartwarming, and it makes us feel less alone,” she said, looking at the activists with their banners, buttons and brightly-colored postcards on display.

Sunsara Taylor, spokeswoman for the group StopPatriarchy.org, said the group would be in town for the next few days before moving on to its final stop in Jackson, Miss.

“We think it’s immoral,” she said of the new law the injunction is stopping until a trial ultimately decides its fate. “[And] it’s delusional to think if it happens here, it won’t happen everywhere.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541