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Clinic lawyers, N.D. in talks to settle challenge to abortion law

FARGO — The legal challenge to a North Dakota law passed last year requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at an area hospital is heading toward a settlement.

What that settlement may entail is uncertain, though.

A civil trial over the lawsuit, filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the state’s sole abortion clinic in Fargo, was set to begin Tuesday in Cass County District Court.

The lawsuit claimed the law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles would effectively shut down the Red River Women’s Clinic.

State lawmakers passed the law in March.

In court filings, the clinic said it tried to comply with the law, but it believed none of its doctors could get admitting privileges at an area hospital.

Fargo has three hospitals. One is for military veterans, Essentia Health has a Catholic affiliation and Sanford Health requires doctors to admit a minimum number of patients a year to have admitting privileges. Doctors who perform abortions at the Red River Women’s Clinic come from out of state.

Proponents of the law said previously it was designed to protect women’s health in the event hospitalization was needed after an abortion. They said it was not designed to shut down access to abortions, as the clinic argued.

The law is under temporary injunction, preventing it from being enforced until the legal challenge is heard.

“We are in settlement negotiations in the case,” Autumn Katz, attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Tuesday. “As such, the trial has been removed from the court docket for the immediate future.”

Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker confirmed talks are ongoing, but could not comment about details in the settlement.

The spokeswoman for the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, Liz Brocker, would only confirm the case was no longer on the court docket.

A Cass County judge allowed the admitting privileges lawsuit to be attached to a previous suit against a law restricting medication abortions, filed by the same reproductive rights group.

The judge ruled the medication law, passed in 2011, is unconstitutional. The case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.