Judge nixes law on doctor credentials for abortion

FARGO (AP) – A judge ruled Wednesday to block a North Dakota law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, after opponents of the bill argued it would shut down the clinic.

East Central District Judge Wickham Corwin presided over a brief hearing about the bill, one of four anti-abortion laws passed this past session by the Republican dominated Legislature and signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Afterward, Corwin said he would sign a preliminary injunction stopping the law from taking effect Thursday, when several new bills officially become part of state code.

“Certainly none if this comes as a surprise,” Corwin said from the bench

Officials at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s sole abortion provider, have said the bill would likely force them out of business. The clinic is served by out-of-state physicians licensed to practice in North Dakota.

The North Dakota law was sponsored by Republican Rep. Spencer Berry, a Fargo doctor who had one time had hospital privileges to deliver babies. He has said the legislation is meant to assure the health and safety of women and obtaining the credentials is not difficult.

The Fargo clinic performs about 1,200 abortions a year. The nearest abortion clinics are four hours south in Sioux Falls, S.D., and four hours southeast in Minneapolis.

Nine states have passed laws on admitting privileges, but the law has taken effect in only Utah and Tennessee, where there have been no legal challenges. Judges have blocked similar legislation in Alabama, Mississippi and Wisconsin.

Corwin had earlier ruled to combine the lawsuit with a 2011 suit that outlaws one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions. He has said the hospital privileges law raises the same “legal and factual matters” as the 2011 legislation, which Corwin thwarted with a July 15 ruling.

“I am not going to reconsider any legal determinations so far,” Corwin said.