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Settlement talks underway in ND abortion lawsuit

Wednesday - 2/12/2014, 4:00pm  ET

JAMES MacPHERSON
Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota's sole abortion clinic is in settlement talks with the state on a lawsuit over a law requiring doctors who perform abortions to obtain hospital-admitting privileges.

The case was slated for trial this week, but Autumn Katz, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that because of the settlement negotiations "the trial has been removed from the court docket for the immediate future."

The New York-based group, which represents the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, would not elaborate.

A spokeswoman for North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem declined to comment.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in state court last May challenging the law, one of four that the Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple passed last year that make North Dakota the most restrictive state in the nation in which to get an abortion.

The law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital-admitting privileges was blocked by East Central Judge Wickham Corwin in July, one day before it was to take effect.

Opponents say the 2013 law would effectively make abortions illegal in North Dakota. They say it would be impossible for doctors performing abortions to meet the number of hospital visits required to gain admitting privileges because the procedure is safe and women rarely need further care requiring hospitalization.

Republican state Sen. Spencer Berry, a physician from Fargo who introduced the bill requiring abortion providers to have hospital-admitting privileges, has said the legislation is meant to assure the health and safety of women.

Corwin had earlier ordered that the lawsuit over hospital-admitting privileges be combined with a 2011 suit over a law that outlaws one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions. A North Dakota Supreme Court ruling on that case is pending.

Corwin has said the hospital privileges law raises the same "legal and factual matters" as the 2011 legislation.

Similar laws have taken effect in Texas, Utah and Tennessee, while judges have blocked such legislation in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Wisconsin.

The Fargo clinic, which performs about 1,200 abortions a year, is served by out-of-state physicians licensed to practice in North Dakota. The nearest abortion clinics are four hours south in Sioux Falls, S.D., and four hours southeast in Minneapolis.

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