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New N.D. abortion law to go into effect; judge still reviewing case material

FARGO A new North Dakota law regarding what a Fargo abortion clinic is required to offer a woman before obtaining the procedure will go into effect Saturday despite the clinic's attempt to temporarily stop it. A judge said he could not rule from ...

FARGO

A new North Dakota law regarding what a Fargo abortion clinic is required to offer a woman before obtaining the procedure will go into effect Saturday despite the clinic's attempt to temporarily stop it.

A judge said he could not rule from the bench, but said he would act quickly and take a prosecutor at his word that he would not rush to prosecute violations of the law.

The Red River Women's Clinic has filed a lawsuit in Cass County District Court arguing that a provision in the new law is confusing. The suit also asks for clarification and a temporary injunction.

The new law requires the clinic to offer a woman the opportunity to view an ultrasound 24 hours before getting an abortion. It includes a provision regarding giving a woman the opportunity to hear the fetus heartbeat. The clinic is unsure what they must do to comply with that provision, including whether they must provide that opportunity, which would mean purchasing new equipment.

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"The clinic cannot afford to guess at what the law means and hope it is right," said attorney Suzanne Stolz, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who represented the clinic Thursday.

Assistant North Dakota Attorney General Doug Bahr said the law's intent is to require the clinic to offer a woman the right to see an ultrasound and hear the fetal heartbeat, but does not require the clinic to perform them.

"The language is not difficult," Bahr said. "They have to offer it at their clinic or another facility."

Providing a list of clinics that do provide hearing the heartbeat is not something the law requires the clinic to do and would create an additional burden, Stolz argued. She added that patients come to the clinic from out of state and all over North Dakota because Fargo's clinic is the only one of its kind in the state.

"They just have to make the offer; they don't have to do anything beyond that," Bahr said.

Fargo Rep. Bette Grande, who sponsored the bill during the recent session, said she believes it is clear and added there was little opposition to it before it passed.

East Central Judicial District Judge Douglas Herman said he expects to decide whether he'll grant an injunction, thus suspending the new abortion law, within the next few weeks, adding that he plans to review the material immediately.

"I have to say it was hard for me to understand what that meant," Herman said regarding the provision the clinic is contesting.

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Violating the law could lead to criminal charges, but Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick told Herman he does not intend to prosecute before Herman's opinion is issued as long as the clinic acts in good faith until then.

"I'm not interested in jumping into the fray if I can help it," Burdick said, adding he also wants clarity regarding the law.

The clinic intends to take Burdick at his word and is comfortable moving forward, Director Tammi Kromenacker said.

"We're disappointed that we did not get an injunction today, but we felt that some of our questions were answered," Kromenacker said.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Related Topics: BIRCH BURDICKCASS COUNTY
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