North Dakota's top court will not revive state's abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: The Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) -North Dakota's Supreme Court on Thursday refused to revive a strict abortion ban previously blocked by a lower court, finding that the ban violates a state constitutional right to abortion to preserve the mother's life or health.

The ruling means that abortion remains legal in North Dakota for now.

"Today, the court rightfully stopped one of the most extreme laws in the country from taking effect and depriving North Dakotans of their reproductive freedom," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the ban on behalf of abortion providers.

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said in a statement that the court "appears to have taken on the role of a legislative body, a role our constitution does not afford them." He noted that the state legislature was considering a reworked abortion ban.

North Dakota's near-total abortion ban would prosecute a doctor for performing an abortion even in order to save the mother's life. To avoid being convicted, the doctor would have to prove at trial that the abortion was necessary to save the mother's life or health.

The ban was passed as a so-called "trigger law" in 2007, set to take effect in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its landmark Roe v. Wade guaranteeing a right to abortion nationwide. The Supreme Court did so in June.

The abortion providers sued the state the following month, arguing the law violated North Dakotans' rights to life, liberty and pursuit of safety and happiness. A state court blocked the law last year, finding the providers were likely to succeed.

The state Supreme Court agreed, rebuffing Wrigley's petition to revive the law, while the case proceeds on the merits in the lower court. Chief Justice Jon Jensen wrote for the court that the rights guaranteed by the state constitution "implicitly include the right to obtain an abortion to preserve the woman's life or health."

Twelve states are currently enforcing abortion bans adopted since last year's Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, North Dakota's only abortion clinic moved from Fargo to nearby Moorhead, Minnesota.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Aurora Ellis and Cynthia Osterman)