Physicians, clinic ask judge to block enforcement of part of a North Dakota abortion law

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Physicians and the former, sole abortion provider in North Dakota on Tuesday asked a judge to block enforcement of part of a revised law that bans most abortions, saying a provision that allows the procedure to protect a woman’s health is too vague.

North Dakota outlaws all abortions, except in cases where women could face death or a “serious health risk.” People who perform abortions could be charged with a felony under the law, but patients would not.

Tuesday’s request for a preliminary injunction asks the state district court judge to bar the state from enforcing the law against physicians who use their “good-faith medical judgment” to perform an abortion to treat pregnancy complications that could “pose a risk of infection, hemorrhage, high blood pressure, or which otherwise makes continuing a pregnancy unsafe.”

The doctors and clinic are asking the injunction to remain in place until their suit against the full law goes to trial next year.

Physicians have perceived the law's language for “serious health risk” to be “so vague” that they “don't know at what point a condition rises to the level of being what the statute calls a ‘serious health risk,’” Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Meetra Mehdizadeh told The Associated Press.

“Physicians want to be able to provide treatment for their patients before their health declines and before they experience serious and potentially life-threatening complications,” she said. “Because of the restrictions placed on abortion access in North Dakota, they don’t know whether they can do that legally.”

The state's revised abortion law also provides an exception for pregnancies caused by rape and incest, but only in the first six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. It also allows for treatment of ectopic and molar pregnancies, which are nonviable situations.

The Red River Women’s Clinic sued the state last year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned the court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion. The lawsuit targeted the state’s since-repealed trigger ban — a ban designed to go into effect immediately if the court overturned Roe v. Wade — as unconstitutional. The clinic moved last year from Fargo, North Dakota, to neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, where abortion remains legal.

A judge granted a preliminary injunction blocking the ban from taking effect last year, which the state Supreme Court upheld in March. In April, the Republican-led Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill revising the state's abortion law.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed that bill into law in late April. In June, the clinic filed an amended complaint, joined by several doctors in obstetrics, gynecology and maternal-fetal medicine. A jury trial is scheduled for August 2024.

Chief Justice Jon Jensen wrote in the court's March decision that “it is clear the citizens of North Dakota have a right to enjoy and defend life and a right to pursue and obtain safety, which necessarily includes a pregnant woman has a fundamental right to obtain an abortion to preserve her life or her health.”

Republican state Sen. Janne Myrdal, who sponsored the bill, called Tuesday's filing “sad" and said it could have come earlier.

“We can do a lot better in North Dakota than what these people who are suing us are intending to do, so we're going to stand firm and continue to protect life,” she told the AP.

The Associated Press sent a text message to North Dakota Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley seeking comment.


Associated Press writer Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.