North Dakota court ruling upholds law that opponents say makes drug-induced abortions illegal

The North Dakota Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law that limits the use of drugs to perform abortions, a move abortion-rights supporters say will end the use of medications to perform the procedure.

The state's high court, in a 103-page ruling, reversed a ruling by a district judge last year that found the 2011 law violates the state constitution.

"Beginning tomorrow morning, there will not be any medication abortions in North Dakota," said David Brown, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping North Dakota's sole abortion clinic in Fargo with its legal challenges.

At least four justices on the five-member state Supreme Court must agree to find a North Dakota law unconstitutional. Two — Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle and Justice Dale Sandstrom — found the law was within the bounds of the state constitution. VandeWalle also said the law was constitutional under the U.S. Constitution.

"The effect of the separate opinions in this case is that (the law) is not declared unconstitutional by a sufficient majority," the ruling said.

Brown said he was still mulling the opinion and did not know whether the case would be elevated to federal court.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem applauded Tuesday's ruling. Stenehjem said the state would wait to see what action, if any, the clinic and its attorneys would take.

Medication abortions at the Red River Women's Clinic involve the use of a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. The Federal Food and Drug Administration has approved the marketing of mifepristone — commonly known as RU-486 — as a drug for ending pregnancies. It is used in combination with misoprostol, a treatment for stomach ulcers that is not labeled as an abortion-inducing drug.

The North Dakota law maintains that the use of any drug to cause an abortion must meet "the protocol tested and authorized" by the FDA and outlined on the drug's label, meaning misoprostol can't be used.

Red River Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker has told The Associated Press that about 20 percent of the 1,300 abortions it performs annually are done with drugs and not surgically.

Attorneys for the clinic have said that abortion drugs used by the clinic are widely accepted by the medical community.