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Published April 18, 2013, 03:48 PM

UPDATED: Judge says he'll rule 2011 ND abortion law unconstitutional

At the end of the final day of testimony Thursday in the Fargo abortion clinic's challenge to a 2011 state law, Judge Wickham Corwin advised attorneys that he will rule that all of the challenged provisions in the law are unconstitutional.

By: Mike Nowatski, Forum News Service

FARGO - At the end of the final day of testimony Thursday in the Fargo abortion clinic's challenge to a 2011 state law, Judge Wickham Corwin advised attorneys that he will rule that all of the challenged provisions in the law are unconstitutional.

Corwin said he's taking the case under advisement, adding the trial did nothing to change his mind from his earlier statements in his memorandum of opinion.

He also called the legislation "simply wrongheaded." His official opinion will be filed at a later date.

During testimony Thursday, the state of North Dakota tried to defend a 2011 law that opponents claim would ban medication abortions.

Its lone witness testified that a study conducted in Finland “clearly shows” drug-induced abortions have a higher risk of adverse events than surgical abortion.

The trial’s third day was marked by testy exchanges between the state’s expert medical witness, Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Janet Crepps, an attorney for the New-York based Center for Reproductive Rights, which sued to block the law on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s lone abortion clinic.

Harrison, of Eau Claire, Mich., cited a 2000-2006 study that followed all women in Finland who had abortions for up to 42 days after the procedure.

The study, which Harrison said is more reliable than U.S. studies because it included women’s complete medical records held by Finland’s state-run health care system, found that both surgical and medication abortions are generally safe, but the overall incidence of adverse events was fourfold higher in medication abortions.

“This very accurate, large, registry-based study clearly shows that medical abortion has a higher overall risk of adverse events ... than surgical abortion,” she said of the study conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Finland’s Oulu University Hospital.

However, on cross-examination by Crepps, Harrison acknowledged that the study didn’t describe the drug regimens used and that it noted no difference in infection rates between the two abortion methods.

Crepps also called Harrison’s credibility into question by pointing out that while she relied on the Finnish study in her testimony, she said in an earlier deposition that the study’s authors referred to both abortion methods as “generally safe” so the study would be published.

In contrast to testimony Wednesday from a Fargo obstetrician-gynecologist, Harrison said it’s “not at all unreasonable” for the law to require that doctors who give abortion drugs have a signed contract with another doctor to handle emergencies arising from the procedure.

She also defended the law’s provision that would require the clinic to follow the drug protocol as stated on the label approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as opposed to the evidence-based protocol that the clinic and most other U.S. abortion providers use.

“Outside of Planned Parenthood, there’s really no regulation of how an individual abortion provider could provide mifepristone and misoprostol,” Harrison said, referring to the two drugs used in medication abortions. “So this is where the state has a specific interest in protecting women, because the state is the one who regulates the practice of medicine.”

Crepps cut off Harrison several times when her answers went long, telling her at one point, “Doctor, there’s no question pending, so you can’t actually keep going,” and later, “You are not qualified to answer questions about what the state of North Dakota has determined.”

The trial began Tuesday and is expected to wrap up today or Friday. Judge Wickham Corwin, who earlier granted a temporary injunction to keep the law from taking effect, is expected to issue his ruling on the law at a later date.

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