The running battle over the regulation of abortions entered a North Dakota courtroom Wednesday, as the state’s sole abortion clinic sued to block a new law that it says would force it to shut down.
The law, requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, was promoted by anti-abortion legislators, who argued that it would mean better care for women who suffer medical emergencies.
The Red River Women’s Clinic, in Fargo, relies on doctors who are licensed in North Dakota but fly in from out of state to perform abortions. Its director said that, in the rare event of serious complications, women would be rushed to a hospital for appropriate care whether or not the clinic doctor had admitting privileges.
“Its purpose is to shut down the clinic, the sole abortion facility in the state,” the suit alleges of the law, which is scheduled to take effect Aug. 1.
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The suit, filed in a state district court on behalf of the clinic by the Center for Reproductive Rights, says the law would pose an unconstitutional infringement on the right to abortion.
A similar law in Mississippi, which could force that state’s only abortion clinic to close because it, too, relies on traveling doctors, has been blocked by a federal court pending a final ruling.
Arizona, Kansas and Tennessee also require that abortion providers have local admitting privileges, and at least one clinic, in Knoxville, Tenn., shut down as a result. These states have multiple abortion providers that continue to operate, however.
The law on hospital privileges was one of several abortion measures adopted in North Dakota in April, including the country’s most stringent, which bars abortions at six weeks of pregnancy.
That ban, according to legal experts, violates Supreme Court rulings, which give a woman a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at around 24 weeks, and may be declared unconstitutional. The Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, said it planned to file a challenge before Aug. 1.
Even if the state’s early ban is thrown out, however, the requirement of hospital privileges could effectively end abortion rights in North Dakota, said Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Clinic.
The clinic performs abortions only up to the 16th week of pregnancy. The visiting doctors are unlikely to gain privileges at Fargo’s three hospitals, Kromenaker said, which include a veterans’ hospital, one with Roman Catholic affiliations and one that requires a doctor to admit at least five patients a year.
“A doctor who had to admit five abortion patients in a year would not be working at this clinic,” Kromenaker said.
She said that, since the clinic began operating in 1998, performing thousands of abortions, that only one patient had required an ambulance ride to an emergency room and that there had been no deaths.
Denise Burke, vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, which has promoted tighter abortion rules, countered that admitting privileges could affect safety.
“The doctor with direct knowledge of the patient can ensure better care in the ER and can continue to be involved with her care in the hospital,” she said.