ND Agrees to Pay Abortion Clinic Court Costs Over Attempted Lawsuit

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) North Dakota has agreed to pay $245,000 to lawyers representing the state's lone abortion clinic over an ill-fated law that attempted to ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The state and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights signed the agreement on Tuesday and the center sent a copy to The Associated Press. It must still be approved by a federal judge.

Lawyers for the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo sought litigation costs from the state after the U.S. Supreme Court in January rejected the state's appeal of a lower court ruling that the 2013 fetal heartbeat law was unconstitutional. The law never took effect but would have banned abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy and before some women know they are pregnant. Abortion-rights supporters said it was the strictest anti-abortion measure in the country.

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple has called the law "a legitimate attempt by a state Legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade." But opponents called it an attempt to shutter the clinic.

The Republican-dominated Legislature passed the abortion law and others in 2013. In signing the bills, Dalrymple urged the Legislature to set aside money for a "litigation fund" that would allow the state's attorney general to defend the measures against lawsuits. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem requested - and received - $400,000 for the legal fight. Lawmakers added another $400,000 last year.

Records obtained by the AP show the state had used more than $320,029 to defend the abortion laws through January, most of which was spent on the fetal heartbeat measure.

Stenehjem did not immediately return telephone calls Tuesday seeking comment on the settlement with the clinic's lawyers.

Janet Crepps, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said she hoped the settlement would send a message to North Dakota and other states.

"From the beginning, the state recognized it was embarking on an expensive lawsuit, defending a clearly unconstitutional law," Crepps said.

"It has cost the state a good bit of money," Crepps said. "A measure could have been passed to help the people of North Dakota."