N.D. abortion clinic drops suit challenging law after reaching deal with state
FARGO – A lawsuit challenging a law requiring doctors who perform abortions in North Dakota to have admitting privileges at a local hospital has been dismissed.
The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s only abortion clinic, filed a lawsuit challenging the 2013 law, arguing it violated the state’s constitution.
The clinic also argued its three doctors wouldn’t be able to comply with the law by getting admitting privileges at a local hospital.
The law was blocked from taking effect by court order, pending the outcome of the court case. The state appealed the preliminary injunction, and the North Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in December.
Sanford Health last month acknowledged that it had granted admitting privileges to doctors for the clinic under its longstanding “open staff privileges” policy at its hospital.
The policy means physicians, whether employed by Sanford or not, have the right to practice at the hospital as long as they meet certain educational, training and certification requirements.
Red River Women’s Clinic physicians, however, do not have privileges to perform abortions at Sanford.
“Because the grounds for suing the state no longer exist, that case is now moot,” North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement.
The state and Red River Women’s Clinic have an agreement requiring the clinic’s doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital as long as the law remains in effect.
The agreement also requires any additional physician who performs abortions at the clinic in the future to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.
In its lawsuit, the clinic argued its doctors wouldn’t be able to get admitting privileges at any local hospitals for various reasons. In Sanford’s case, it claimed its out-of-town doctors would be required to admit a certain number of patients to Sanford per year to maintain privileges.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, said she’s pleased the lawsuit has been settled, but said the clinic will remain vigilant against threats.
“Really, the intent of this law was to shut us down,” she said. “We’re going to keep fighting laws that the only intent is to shut us down.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, represented the Red River Women’s Clinic in the lawsuit. The center also represented the clinic in challenging a 2011 state law outlawing medication abortions, which is on appeal with the North Dakota Supreme Court.
A representative of the North Dakota Right to Life Association, which supported the hospital credentials law, called it a common sense provision to protect the health and safety of women.
“We will continue to push forward and try to enact laws that protect the sanctity of life at all stages of development,” said Devlyn Nelson, executive director of the North Dakota Right to Life Association.
Meanwhile, a challenge involving another new North Dakota law to restrict abortion will be heard soon in U.S. District Court in Bismarck.
On April 4, lawyers will argue for and against a summary judgment motion involving a fetal heart monitoring law passed in 2013 that effectively would ban abortions at about six weeks.