North Dakota Bishops Condemn Judge’s Expansive Abortion Ruling

The Fargo judge’s decision makes abortion a fundamental right ‘subject to practically no limitations,’ the state's bishops warn.

(photo: Facebook/PersonhoodND)

BISMARCK, N.D. — A North Dakota court’s ruling against a law barring the use of a drug for chemical abortions should cause “great concern” because it threatens most pro-life laws there, the state's bishops warned.

“A lone judge sitting in Fargo has declared that the North Dakota Constitution makes abortion a ‘fundamental’ right subject to practically no limitations,” Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck and Bishop John Folda of Fargo said July 16.

“In fact, the right ‘found’ by Judge Wickham Corwin is more expansive than that used by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The North Dakota Catholic Conference warned that the decision could have major consequences, saying it is “shocking to read an opinion so far-reaching and out of step with the law and public opinion.”

"North Dakota could go from one of the most pro-life states in the country to one of the most pro-abortion states,” the conference said. “Without correction, Judge Corwin’s decision will become the Roe v. Wade for North Dakota.”

The bishops said the ruling, if affirmed, would put all the state’s pro-life laws at risk, including parental notification, health-and-safety requirements and conscience protections for health-care providers.

The legal case concerns a ban on doctors using misoprostol in combination with the abortion pill RU-486 (mifepristone) to induce a chemical abortion. Misoprostol has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use with RU-486.

Misoprostol is approved for the prevention and treatment of gastric ulcers. The maker of the drug’s brand-name version, G.D. Searle & Co., in an August 2000 letter, said that the drug is not approved for the induction of labor or abortion.

The pharmaceutical manufacturer warned of “serious adverse effects” when the drug is used for these purposes, including maternal death, rupture or perforation of the uterus, bleeding and other complications.

On July 15, Corwin, a North Dakota district judge, ruled that there was no “compelling state interest” to justify the “infringement” upon abortion access caused by banning the drug’s use. He said restricting abortion access would impinge upon women’s “autonomy and self-determination.”

The North Dakota Catholic Conference said that Corwin incorrectly found a right to abortion in the state's Constitution — a right that has never been affirmed by the state’s Supreme Court. Corwin also applied a legal principle known as “strict scrutiny” to the law, even though the less rigorous standard of “undue burden” presently applies.

“If, then, as Judge Corwin proclaims, the North Dakota Constitution provides a fundamental right to abortion, much more is at stake than the laws regulating the use of abortion drugs,” the conference said, echoing the concerns of the bishops that the ruling threatens other pro-life laws.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has said he will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

North Dakota’s bishops said they are pleased that the attorney general intends to appeal the decision. They called on Catholics and others to pray for “corrective measures,” as well as for “the women and children hurt by this decision.”

Said the bishops, “This serious error must be corrected, whether it be through additional litigation or legislative action.”