Clinic director: May sue over North Dakota abortion law

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Abortion rights supporters are considering a lawsuit over a new North Dakota law that would require the clinic to read women a "junk science" script about reversing a medication abortion, according to the director of the state's only abortion clinic.

Anti-abortion lawmakers had remained mostly quiet since 2013 when North Dakota passed what was considered the country's most strict abortion law, only to see it overturned by courts. But the Republican-led Legislature approved two abortion bills this year.

One of them, which prohibits doctors using certain instruments in a common second-trimester procedure, is on hold awaiting court rulings.

The other is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1. It would require the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo to tell women undergoing medication abortions they can still have a live birth if after the procedure they change their minds. Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker said she and other opponents are "considering what to do, which could be legal action." She declined to elaborate.

North Dakota is among several states to enact new restrictions on abortion as the U.S. Supreme Court makeup has changed to be more favorable to conservatives' cause. Lawmakers who once couched anti-abortion bills as protecting women's health are now open about wanting it banned.

State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who unsuccessfully defended the 2013 measure that made North Dakota the first state to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, said he will be required to defend the current law as well.

"It is my duty to defend enactments of the Legislature so that's what we'll do if a lawsuit ensues," Stenehjem said.

Republican Rep. Daniel Johnston, who sponsored the measure, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The new law states that a doctor or doctor's agent must tell the woman that "it may be possible to reverse the effects of an abortion-inducing drug" and adds that "time is of the essence" if she changes her mind. Kromenaker said the bill is based on "junk science" and puts the clinic in a bad position.

Abortion-rights supporters have said the procedure is based on a flawed 2018 study by an anti-abortion doctor, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said claims about the treatment "are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards."

"The Red River Women's Clinic believes very deeply in giving the best information that we can based on the most accurate and up-to-date information," Kromenaker said. "This puts us at odds with our mission and our relationship with our patients."

The anti-abortion movement slowed in North Dakota after two of the GOP lawmakers who spearheaded the issue in 2013, Fargo's Bette Grande and Bismarck's Margaret Sitte, were defeated in 2014 by abortion-rights candidates. That same year, voters soundly defeated a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have stated that "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected."

Kromenaker said the abortion moves by this year's Legislature were driven by the elections of President Donald Trump, Gov. Doug Burgum and a fresh group of Republican legislators who weren't around in 2013. Kromenaker said she was "astonished" to hear Burgum say during a campaign debate he would have supported the 2013 fetal heartbeat bill that cost the state nearly half a million dollars in legal and settlement fees.

"The governor has talked about being fiscally responsible, about not taking a salary and about bringing to politics the things he did as a successful businessman," Kromenaker said of the former Microsoft executive. "Instead, he is fitting the current mold of being politically expedient and politically agreeable."

Asked about Kromenaker's comments, Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said in a statement that "Gov. Burgum is pro-life and supports a culture of life."

The second bill passed this year bans the abortion method of so-called dilation and evacuation. It would make it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb. Opponents have called it "human dismemberment abortion."

Kromenaker said the clinic has received calls from some patients wondering if abortions were still legal in North Dakota, but most have been undeterred by the legislative action — and the elements many of them face when making hours-long drives to the facility.

"When it was 35 below this winter, nearly every patient who was scheduled showed up," she said.