Choice Wins Again: North Dakota Law Barring Abortion By Medication Struck Down By Federal Judge


And so the rulings begin. North Dakota has made effort after effort in the last few years to ban abortion. To achieve that goal, Republicans in the state passed a law in 2011 which bans the prescription and use of medication to end a pregnancy in the first trimester, despite the fact that first trimester abortions are legal and medication abortions are safe. Fast forward to 2013 and the North Dakota GOP passed even more laws, all of which seek to challenge Roe v. Wade. Among the new laws is a fetal heartbeat bill that could ban abortion as early as six weeks after conception, a fetal pain bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks on the false notion that fetuses feel pain that early in a pregnancy, and a personhood resolution that would ban abortion entirely if voters approve the measure in 2014. Republicans know these laws are unconstitutional and will be challenged in court, which is why they’ve approved a larger budget for the state attorney general. But a ruling by a federal judge on the 2011 law may serve as an indication that North Dakota is about to lose the legal battle at the expense of millions of taxpayer dollars.

On Thursday, a US district judge in the state ruled that HB 1297, which bans medication abortion, is unconstitutional. Judge Wickham Corwin wrote that North Dakota’s excuse that the bill is meant to keep women safe is “exaggerated and contrived” and is clearly designed to “stand in the way of women’s health,” and women’s constitutional right to have an abortion in the way her and her doctor deem best.

Medical science has proven that abortions via medication are safe for women. According to a study published in December 2012 in Obstetrics and Gynecology and reported on by Reuters, only one percent of women out of 233,305 treated had complications after taking medication to end their pregnancies. All of the patients were treated by Planned Parenthood, and the medications the women were taking are the drugs misoprostol and mifepristone.

“Of the 233,805 abortions during the study period, 385 women had a serious side effect, including 238 who sought ER treatment, 135 who were admitted to the hospital, 114 who had a blood transfusion and 57 who required intravenous antibiotics. All of those women survived. “This continues to show that medical abortion is a very, very safe option for women,” said Dr. Debra Stulberg, who studies disparities in reproductive health at the University of Chicago and wasn’t involved in the new study. “That’s really the take-home point.”

One professional who was involved in the study, Princeton University reproductive health researcher James Trussell says that “At Planned Parenthood, medical abortion is extremely safe,” and “The most common adverse outcome is just continuing pregnancy. It doesn’t work 100 percent of the time.”

The judge’s ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota women who will now have access to one of the simplest and safest ways to end an unwanted pregnancy. The ruling also serves as an indication that all of the other anti-abortion laws passed by Republicans in the state are also doomed to be struck down as well. After all, those bills also restrict first trimester abortions and are therefore unconstitutional. A recent ruling by an Idaho judge that struck down a 20 week abortion ban also doesn’t bode well for North Dakota. If a judge strikes that law down in North Dakota, it would effectively dismantle not only that ridiculous law, but the fetal heartbeat law as well because it bans abortion even earlier.

Clearly, Republicans are denying science and are making women unsafe by doing so. Medication abortions are one of the safest methods to end an unwanted pregnancy and banning such a method interferes with the health decisions a women makes with her doctor. When it comes to health, all reasonable options should be available to doctor and patient. Judge Corwin restored an option for women with his ruling, thus delivering a victory for choice and women’s reproductive health.