News Abortion

North Dakota Has Spent Hundreds of Thousands of Taxpayer Dollars Defending Anti-Choice Laws

Teddy Wilson

North Dakota is one of a handful of states racking up huge legal bills defending unconstitutional anti-choice legislation.

North Dakota is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending unconstitutional anti-choice laws, according to records obtained by the Associated Press.

The state has reportedly spent $159,000 so far defending its 2011 medication abortion law, which was blocked by East Central District Judge Wickham Corwin in July. (The North Dakota attorney general’s office recently asked the state supreme court to reverse that ruling.) That is more than $100,000 greater than what was reported in June. The funds have been used for legal fees, travel, and expert witnesses. 

The law, HB 1297, banned the off-label use of two medication abortion drugs and restricted the procedures to only the protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Opponents argue that the law unconstitutionally restricts medication abortions.

In addition, state lawmakers have allocated $400,000 in taxpayer funds to defend anti-choice laws passed this year, including legislation that would ban abortion as early as six weeks’ gestation; that law has been blocked by a federal judge while its constitutionality is challenged. Another law requiring doctors that perform abortions to acquire admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they provide abortions has also been blocked while a challenge to its constitutionality proceeds.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

North Dakota is one of a handful of states racking up huge legal bills defending unconstitutional anti-choice laws. Idaho has spent $365,000 defending abortion restrictions since 2000, and could potentially spend another $400,000 defending another case.

Culture & Conversation Abortion

With Buffer Zones and Decline of ‘Rescues’ Came Anti-Choice Legal Boom, Book Argues

Eleanor J. Bader

University of Denver's Joshua Wilson argues that prosecutions of abortion-clinic protesters and the decline of "rescue" groups in the 1980s and 1990s boosted conservative anti-abortion legal activism nationwide.

There is nothing startling or even new in University of Denver Professor Joshua C. Wilson’s The New States of Abortion Politics (Stanford University Press). But the concise volume—just 99 pages of text—pulls together several recent trends among abortion opponents and offers a clear assessment of where that movement is going.

As Wilson sees it, anti-choice activists have moved from the streets, sidewalks, and driveways surrounding clinics to the courts. This, he argues, represents not only a change of agitational location but also a strategic shift. Like many other scholars and advocates, Wilson interprets this as a move away from pushing for the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade and toward a more incremental, state-by-state winnowing of access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, he points out that it is no coincidence that this maneuver took root in the country’s most socially conservative regions—the South and Midwest—before expanding outward.

Wilson credits two factors with provoking this metamorphosis. The first was congressional passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, legislation that imposed penalties on protesters who blocked patients and staff from entering or leaving reproductive health facilities. FACE led to the establishment of protest-free buffer zones at freestanding clinics, something anti-choicers saw as an infringement on their right to speak freely.

Not surprisingly, reproductive rights activists—especially those who became active in the 1980s and early 1990s as a response to blockades, butyric acid attacks, and various forms of property damage at abortion clinics—saw the zones as imperative. In their experiences, buffer zones were the only way to ensure that patients and staff could enter or leave a facility without being harassed or menaced.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The second factor, Wilson writes, involved the reduced ranks of the so-called “rescue” movement, a fundamentalist effort led by the Lambs of Christ, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and Priests for Life. While these groups are former shadows of themselves, the end of the rescue era did not end anti-choice activism. Clinics continue to be picketed, and clinicians are still menaced. In fact, local protesters and groups such as 40 Days for Life and the Center for Medical Progress (which has exclusively targeted Planned Parenthood) negatively affect access to care. Unfortunately, Wilson does not tackle these updated forms of harassment and intimidation—or mention that some of the same players are involved, albeit in different roles.

Instead, he argues the two threads—FACE and the demise of most large-scale clinic protests—are thoroughly intertwined. Wilson accurately reports that the rescue movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of arrests as well as fines and jail sentences for clinic blockaders. This, he writes, opened the door to right-wing Christian attorneys eager to make a name for themselves by representing arrested and incarcerated activists.

But the lawyers’ efforts did not stop there. Instead, they set their sights on FACE and challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. As Wilson reports, for almost two decades, a loosely connected group of litigators and activists worked diligently to challenge the buffer zones’ legitimacy. Their efforts finally paid off in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.” In short, the decision in McCullen v. Coakley found that clinics could no longer ask the courts for blanket prohibitions on picketing outside their doors—even when they anticipated prayer vigils, demonstrations, or other disruptions. They had to wait until something happened.

This, of course, was bad news for people in need of abortions and other reproductive health services, and good news for the anti-choice activists and the lawyers who represented them. Indeed, the McCullen case was an enormous win for the conservative Christian legal community, which by the early 2000s had developed into a network united by opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

The New States of Abortion Politics zeroes in on one of these legal groups: the well-heeled and virulently anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom, previously known as the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s a chilling portrait.

According to Wilson, ADF’s budget was $40 million in 2012, a quarter of which came from the National Christian Foundation, an Alpharetta, Georgia, entity that claims to have distributed $6 billion in grants to right-wing Christian organizing efforts since 1982.

By any measure, ADF has been effective in promoting its multipronged agenda: “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family.” In practical terms, this means opposing LGBTQ inclusion, abortion, marriage equality, and the right to determine one’s gender identity for oneself.

The group’s tentacles run deep. In addition to a staff of 51 full-time lawyers and hundreds of volunteers, a network of approximately 3,000 “allied attorneys” work in all 50 states to boost ADF’s agenda. Allies are required to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Trinitarian Statement of Faith, a hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity that rests on a literal interpretation of biblical scripture. They also have to commit to providing 450 hours of pro bono legal work over three years to promote ADF’s interests—no matter their day job or other obligations. Unlike the American Bar Association, which encourages lawyers to provide free legal representation to poor clients, ADF’s allied attorneys steer clear of the indigent and instead focus exclusively on sexuality, reproduction, and social conservatism.

What’s more, by collaborating with other like-minded outfits—among them, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice—ADF provides conservative Christian lawyers with an opportunity to team up on both local and national cases. Periodic trainings—online as well as in-person ones—offer additional chances for skill development and schmoozing. Lastly, thanks to Americans United for Life, model legislation and sample legal briefs give ADF’s other allies an easy way to plug in and introduce ready-made bills to slowly but surely chip away at abortion, contraceptive access, and LGBTQ equality.

The upshot has been dramatic. Despite the recent Supreme Court win in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of anti-choice measures passed by statehouses across the country has ramped up since 2011. Restrictions—ranging from parental consent provisions to mandatory ultrasound bills and expanded waiting periods for people seeking abortions—have been imposed. Needless to say, the situation is unlikely to improve appreciably for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the same people who oppose abortion have unleashed a backlash to marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination protections for the trans community, and their howls of disapproval have hit a fever pitch.

The end result, Wilson notes, is that the United States now has “an inconstant localized patchwork of rules” governing abortion; some counties persist in denying marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, making homophobic public servants martyrs in some quarters. As for reproductive health care, it all depends on where one lives: By virtue of location, some people have relatively easy access to medical providers while others have to travel hundreds of miles and take multiple days off from work to end an unwanted pregnancy. Needless to say, this is highly pleasing to ADF’s attorneys and has served to bolster their fundraising efforts. After all, nothing brings in money faster than demonstrable success.

The New States of Abortion Politics is a sobering reminder of the gains won by the anti-choice movement. And while Wilson does not tip his hand to indicate his reaction to this or other conservative victories—he is merely the reporter—it is hard to read the volume as anything short of a call for renewed activism in support of reproductive rights, both in the courts and in the streets.

News Law and Policy

Lawsuit Challenges Anti-Choice Laws Passed by Louisiana Lawmakers

Teddy Wilson

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Friday in federal district court challenging abortion restrictions passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year.

Despite facing a budget crisis, lawmakers passed seven laws that restricted access to reproductive health care, including abortion services, which the Center for Reproductive Rights claims “individually, and cumulatively” unduly restrict the “constitutional right to abortion.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the laws collectively create a “web of red tape” that restrict women’s ability to access reproductive health care.

“Louisiana politicians are trying to do what the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled decisively they cannot, burying women’s right to safe and legal abortion under an avalanche of unjustified and burdensome restrictions,” Northup said.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor at Tulane University, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 was a “strong rebuke” of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

“I think the Louisiana law and any similar laws are going to be struck down,” Griffin said. “[Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg filed a reminder to courts that the five-member majority is going to be looking very skeptically at targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

Among the laws challenged is a law similar to Texas’ HB 2.

HB 488 requires that physicians providing abortion care be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and that they be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine. Previously, the law required that a physician be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and be currently enrolled in or have completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), who in 2014 authored the state’s Texas-style admitting privileges law. The law is the subject of another Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit, and is currently blocked by a Supreme Court decision.

Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 “does not predict a favorable forecast” for a similar law passed in Louisiana.

“The sad thing here as we see it is that these judges are replacing the elected officials and the legislative process as the determiner of what is medically important or not,” Clapper said. “We don’t believe that’s how it should be.”

Among the other laws challenged include those that restrict abortion procedures, require a waiting period before an abortion, impose restrictions on the handling of fetal tissue, and ban public funding for organizations that provide abortion services.

HB 1081 targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions. A growing number of states have passed laws to ban the procedure, while state courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas.

HB 386 tripled the state’s waiting period for a pregnant patient seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.

HB 1019 prohibits a person from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion with knowledge that the pregnant patient is seeking the abortion solely because the “unborn child” has been diagnosed with either a genetic abnormality or a potential for a genetic abnormality.

HB 815 prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of the “intact body of a human embryo or fetus” obtained from an induced abortion. The law also prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of “organs, tissues, or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus whose death was knowingly caused by an induced abortion.”

In addition, it “require[s] burial or cremation of remains resulting from abortion,” which acts as a de facto medication abortion ban, since an embryo miscarried at home, through medication abortion, cannot in practice be buried or cremated.

SB 33, similar to HB 815, prohibits the sale, receipt, and transport of fetal organs and body parts obtained from an induced abortion. Any person who violates this provision would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at hard labor between ten to 50 years, at least ten years of which must be served without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, and may, in addition, be required to pay a fine of not more than $50,000.

HB 606 prohibits entities that perform abortions from receiving public funding, unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the pregnant patient, the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape, or the pregnancy was diagnosed as “medically futile.”

Most of the bills were passed with significant bipartisan support, and were signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Each of the laws is set to take effect on August 1. 

”We are asking the district court to immediately block these unconstitutional laws,” Northup said.