U.S. appeals court suspends N.D. abortion curb Supreme Court upheld

April 15, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court, in a significant victory for pregnant women seeking abortions, ordered North Dakota yesterday to stop enforcing its new anti-abortion law -- just 12 days after the Supreme Court had allowed that law to go into effect.

The action by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis was limited to North Dakota, but appeared to have a wider potential meaning. It was the first definite sign in months that federal courts will not allow new abortion restrictions to be enforced without considering their impact on women who want to end pregnancies.

If that trend develops, it will mean that women, doctors and clinics would not have to start obeying abortion laws and would not have to

postpone their constitutional challenges until the laws had been in effect for months.

Four justices of the Supreme Court had hinted, when the court acted in the North Dakota case earlier this month, that this was what they expected lower courts to do when new abortion laws were challenged. Since the Supreme Court, in a Pennsylvania case last June, partly reaffirmed the right to abortion while simultaneously upholding some new limits on abortions, two federal appeals courts have ruled that limits similar to Pennsylvania's probably would withstand challenges and thus could go into effect.

North Dakota's law, like Pennsylvania's, has a 24-hour waiting period and a mandatory medical-legal lecture by doctors to pregnant women before they may get abortions. The North Dakota provisions went into effect with the Supreme Court's temporary order April 2 letting the state start enforcing its law. That law had been delayed because of constitutional challenges to it by the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, in Fargo.

But the action yesterday by the St. Louis-based appeals court was not, in legal terms, a contradiction of what the Supreme Court did by its 7-2 vote earlier this month.

The Supreme Court action amounted primarily to a refusal to interfere with the appeals court's continuing study of the North Dakota law. The appeals court went forward with that study yesterday, holding a one-hour hearing and then promptly issuing a brief order that stopped the law's enforcement for the time being.

The appeals court did not explain why it did that, other than to say that the Fargo clinic's lawyers had now met the legal standards for such an order.

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