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Published April 10, 2013, 12:22 PM

North Dakota AG seeks $400,000 to defend anti-abortion bills

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday the figure is an estimate of what he thinks he will need to defend any or all of the laws that prohibit abortion based on gender or genetic abnormality, if a heartbeat is detected, and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions have admitting and staff privileges at a nearby hospital.

By: TJ Jerke, Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The state’s top attorney is asking lawmakers to include $400,000 in his budget to fight any litigation that may come with the passage of what some say are the most restrictive anti-abortion measures in the country.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday the figure is an estimate of what he thinks he will need to defend any or all of the laws that prohibit abortion based on gender or genetic abnormality, if a heartbeat is detected, and a requirement that physicians who perform abortions have admitting and staff privileges at a nearby hospital.

But, he said, it’s difficult to know exactly how much is needed since they could all be grouped into one lawsuit or filed separately. He said the amount of time a case may take is also unknown, which also drives up the litigation fees.

He said he used historical state data and visited with the Arkansas and Idaho attorneys general, who lately have litigated anti-abortion measures.

“I reached out to them to help get a handle of what the fees might be,” he said. “It helped me to form the basis for my estimate.”

Stenehjem said the more expensive part of this litigation is the medical expert witnesses the state will need.

Stenehjem provided his two cents on where the litigation will likely go.

“Some suggest this is a case it could go to the U.S. Supreme Court — that won’t happen in the next two years,” he said. “As far as we can reasonably expect to get is have a trial in district court and get as far as an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court.”

Stenehjem said litigation is also questionable since Gary Hangsleben, 67, of Grand Forks, has asked Secretary of State Al Jaeger for a petition for each bill to refer them to a statewide vote in June 2014.

Jaeger is waiting for Stenehjem to approve the wording that will go on the top of the petition.

Jaeger has until Thursday to send Hangsleben the petition wording. Hangsleben’s group will have until July 24 to obtain 13,452 signatures.

If there is a vote that rejects the laws, there won’t be a lawsuit. If the laws survive, he expects a lawsuit to proceed.

The legal challenge would come from the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo and its legal counsel, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the women’s clinic, said no action has been taken toward the three measures.

“The center is very calm and particular in the way they proceed,” she said. “It’s so early, nothing has been done.”

She said most of her attention has been on her daily work at the clinic and preparing to go to trial against the state next week.

The state is being sued over an anti-abortion bill that passed during the 2011 legislative session that prohibits a medicated abortion.

“I thought the lawsuit would proceed a lot more quickly. Two years since it was enacted and we have yet to have a trial in district court,” Stenehjem said. “It underlines that litigation can be lengthy, especially complicated and controversial measures like this.”

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