- A North Dakota abortion law was supposed to go into effect Thursday
- Its requirements would have led to the closure of the state's only abortion clinic
- Clinic's past doesn't suggest new regulations are needed; judge halts law's implementation
- The clinic's director cheers the ruling, saying state constitution protects abortion rights
A North Dakota judge Wednesday halted the imminent implementation of a law that threatened to shut down the state's only abortion clinic by mandating that physicians involved in the practice have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
The preliminary injunction blocks the law, SB 2305, from going into effect as scheduled on Thursday.
"This is not meant to denigrate the deep and profound convictions of those who oppose abortion, but nothing can be gained by fueling the passions that drive this 'intensely divisive controversy,'" Judge Wickham Corwin said in his ruling.
The ruling makes SB 2305 the latest North Dakota law on abortion that a court has blocked in recent weeks.
A federal judge earlier this month temporarily blocked the enforcement of a law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The legislation affected by Wednesday's ruling required "all physicians performing abortion procedures (to) have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the abortion facility, and staff privileges to replace hospital on-staff physicians at that hospital."
"These privileges must include the abortion procedures the physician will be performing at abortion facilities," the law adds.
As Corwin points out, putting the law into effect would force the closure of Red River Women's Clinic -- a place where "all abortions ... are completed long before the fetus becomes viable (and) are extremely safe and effective."
Its staff, until now, had no reason to be affiliated with a local hospital, much less be approved to perform abortions at such facilities. The judge noted that a Catholic hospital and a veteran's hospital -- neither of which perform abortions -- are within the 30-mile radius, as is one other hospital that requires doctors with admitting privileges to "generate the specified minimum volume of business."
Early stage abortions "are relatively simple procedures, performed on an outpatient basis" in clinics without need for hospitalization, he added. The "old argument" that the women need to be near hospitals should "grave complications" arise has been "dispelled," according to Corwin.
"It is hard to envision how a compelling need for state regulation could ever exist," the judge said. "In any event, the existing record clearly fails to suggest any need for the requirements imposed in SB 2305."
Tammi Kromenaker, the director of the Red River Women's Clinic, expressed satisfaction with Corwin's ruling and the fact that it means North Dakotans "will continue to have the same rights as women across the United States."
"The judge clearly stated that these attempts to contrive safety concerns continue to be wrong-headed, and that the (North Dakota) constitution does include protections for women seeking abortions," Kromenaker said.