North Dakota judge blocks abortion ban from going into effect Friday
North Dakota judge blocks abortion ban from going into effect Friday

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The day before a near-total abortion ban would have taken effect in North Dakota, a judge put that law on hold Thursday afternoon, pending the conclusion of a legal challenge being mounted by the state’s former sole abortion clinic.

Burleigh County District Judge Bruce Romanick granted a preliminary injunction in a legal challenge brought by Red River Women’s Clinic, which was North Dakota’s only abortion clinic until it moved just across state lines earlier this month. Although the trigger ban has been blocked, the state will have no abortion clinic for the foreseeable future.

The clinic relocated from Fargo to Moorehead, Minn., on Aug. 6 to stay open in the event that the North Dakota trigger ban went into effect. Tammi Kromenaker, the clinic’s director, said Red River Women’s Clinic would probably stay in Moorehead even if it wins its lawsuit and defeats the trigger ban, because Minnesota’s abortion laws are far more permissive.

“It’s like night and day between Minnesota and North Dakota,” Kromenaker said.

Meanwhile, laws passed in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade tightened abortion restrictions in Tennessee, Idaho and Texas on Thursday, banning abortion from conception in Tennessee and Idaho and raising the penalty for abortion providers in Texas. Nearly 36 percent of U.S. women live in a state that bans most abortions, though some of those laws have been temporarily blocked by the courts, and more restrictions are on the horizon.

Antiabortion activists welcomed the new restrictions, which outlawed abortions that had previously been allowed under “heartbeat” bans in Idaho and Tennessee. Those states previously allowed the procedure before cardiac activity could be detected, which occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy — before many people know they are pregnant.

“Today we celebrate the strongest protections yet for thousands of unborn babies and their mothers across Idaho, Tennessee and Texas,” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement Thursday. “Victories like these are made possible by the Dobbs decision that paved the way for all Americans and their elected representatives to protect life in our laws.”

Abortion was already tightly controlled in those three states before Thursday’s trigger laws took effect. For months, Texas has banned abortion from conception with a narrow exception in cases where the pregnant patient’s life is in danger. Abortion was mostly banned in Tennessee and Idaho, but a small number of people could terminate very early pregnancies.

1 in 3 American women have already lost abortion access. More restrictive laws are coming.

On Thursday, a trigger law took effect in Texas and raised the civil and criminal penalties for doctors who perform an illegal abortion to include a $100,000 fine and up to life in prison. A new law in Idaho bars abortions from conception, with exceptions for victims of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant patient. Tennessee also tightened its ban to include nearly all abortions, with a narrow exception for cases where the pregnant person’s life is at risk.

Little changed in Texas on Thursday, where doctors had already been prohibited from providing most abortions since the state passed a six-week abortion ban known as S.B. 8 last year. The state’s ban expanded this year to outlaw the procedure beginning at conception.

“Since the [Supreme Court] decision came out, really, there’s been no meaningful access to abortion,” said Bhavik Kumar, medical director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston.

Abortion rights activists raised concerns that the tighter restrictions going into effect might jeopardize treatment for women facing pregnancy complications in those states, even though Texas, Tennessee and Idaho already had laws in place that banned most abortions.

“It’ll have a real chilling effect on physicians who provide for women in other settings,” said Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Northern Mississippi.

Doctors are left to decide, in the heat of the moment, whether a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication like preeclampsia qualifies for an exception under the new law. “Whether it qualifies for a life emergency exception under this total ban would be a risk for providers to take because these are criminal penalties associated with this ban,” she added.

Additional restrictive abortion laws loom in the coming weeks.

Oklahoma on Saturday increases penalties for doctors who perform illegal abortions, to include a $100,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. The state bans nearly all abortion, with exceptions for instances of rape or incest that have been reported to police or if medically necessary to save the pregnant patient’s life.

On Sept. 15, Indiana will implement the first new abortion ban to be passed by a state legislature since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June. Indiana lawmakers on Aug. 5 passed the ban from conception, with exceptions for rape, incest, lethal fetal anomalies and to save the life of the pregnant individual.

Lawmakers in South Carolina and West Virginia are also considering bills that would tighten restrictions on abortion in special legislative sessions that have spanned much of the summer.

West Virginia Republicans could not agree on whether to include exceptions for rape and incest in a proposed ban that the state Senate passed late last month. The state House rejected the Senate’s bill, and asked for a conference committee made up of members of both legislative chambers to meet and hash out the details of a ban that could get enough support to pass. The proposed ban has been stalled since then, though lawmakers could return to vote again.

The debate around exceptions also has been heated in South Carolina, where a bill that would not allow victims of rape or incest to terminate pregnancies is moving through the legislative process in the coming weeks. The state House will likely vote next week, and if the bill passes, it will move on to the state Senate. The state already has a six-week ban, but that law was blocked by the South Carolina Supreme Court last week



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