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Pact reached to keep North Dakota's only abortion clinic open

March 14, 2014|By Michael Muskal
  • A man prays outside Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, N.D. The state and clinic reached an agreement that will allow physicians to continue performing abortions.
A man prays outside Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, N.D. The state… (Dan Koeck )

North Dakota and its only abortion clinic have resolved part of their dispute over the state’s new abortion law, meaning the facility will remain open.

At issue was the requirement that physicians performing abortions have hospital privileges. The state and clinic agreed that doctors at the Red River Women's Clinic would maintain such privileges.

The agreement was announced Friday by the state and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which assisted the clinic, located in Fargo. The stipulation ends a lawsuit over the requirement, which was included in the 2013 law and threatened to close the women’s health facility.

The hospital privilege requirement has been pushed by abortion opponents who say it helps increase the quality of care women receive. Those supporting abortion rights say such laws are a way of restricting the availability of abortions, particularly in underserved rural areas, and that the privileges are unnecessary to ensure safety.

There have been battles over the requirement in Texas, where two more clinics closed this month primarily because of the privileges issue. Similar fights are brewing in other states, including Louisiana.

In North Dakota, the facility originally argued that it would be impossible for out-of-state physicians to obtain privileges at a local hospital. However, a local healthcare system recently said the Red River physicians had been credentialed, leading state Atty. Gen. Wayne Stenehjem to agree to a stipulation.

“All of the clinic’s physicians were able to comply with the requirements of the law by obtaining privileges at a local hospital,” Stenehjem said in a statement. “Because the grounds for suing the state no longer exist, that case is now moot.

“The agreement requires the physicians currently performing abortions at the clinic to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital as long as the law remains in effect,” he said.

The center agreed that the issue had been resolved but pledged to continue to work against laws designed to limit abortion rights.

“We are pleased that the physicians at the Red River Women’s Clinic have been able to obtain admitting privileges and reach a settlement with state officials, but the fact remains that this law’s intention was to shutter the only abortion clinic in the state,” said Autumn Katz, staff attorney with the center.

She added, “While the women of North Dakota can breathe a temporary sigh of relief that this particular underhanded law can no longer threaten safe and legal reproductive healthcare in their state, our court battles continue as we fight the other equally extreme efforts to ban abortion in the state.”

The hospital privileges measure was one of several passed by the Republican-controlled  Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple last year. The package was designed to make North Dakota one of the nation’s most difficult states in which to get an abortion.

The most restrictive requirement was a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could take place as soon as six weeks after conception and well before the time established by the U.S. Supreme Court, at about 22 to 24 weeks. A federal judge has stayed that requirement while it goes through the court system.

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