Statement on Decision to Not Charge for Illegal Abortions

Cass County state’s attorney Birch Burdick’s failure file charges stemming from illegal abortions performed at the Red River Women’s Clinic is disappointing and sets a dangerous precedent.
The interest of the North Dakota Catholic Conference in this case has not been about attacking Dr. Thorndike or the Red River Women’s Clinic, but about whether our state’s abortions laws will be enforced and whether women seeking abortions will get the full protection under the law.
The investigation left no doubt that Lori Thorndike performed “a number of abortions” without a North Dakota license on September 30.  According to state law, that means she committed several misdemeanors and one felony for each abortion.  The facts are established.  The law is on the books.  What is missing is a willingness to enforce the law.
The reasons given by Mr. Burdick for declining to prosecute are not persuasive.
Burdick concludes that the “administrative mechanisms” available to the Board of Medical Examiners provides a “suitable remedy.”  That conclusion, however, disregards the express provisions of the law and the will of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly.  If the administrative remedies were sufficient, the legislature would not have passed the provisions of the Abortion Control Act.
Burdick states that he is “unable to conceive of a reason” for treating unlicensed abortionists differently from other physicians.  With all due respect, it is not his place to second guess the legislature on why they enact laws.
In fact, there do exist reasons for the difference.  As I wrote previously:
“One reason is that some abortion providers around the country have shown disregard for basic health, safety, and medical standards.  The North Dakota legislature took notice of these instances and chose to prevent them by enacting more stringent standards.  In addition, abortion advocates have insisted that non-physicians have a ‘right’ to conduct abortions.  A felony penalty prevents non-physicians from performing abortions – thus endangering women’s lives – and accepting a misdemeanor penalty as ‘one for the cause.’”
The state’s attorney concludes that he “believes” the only purpose of the legislation was to prevent medically untrained persons from conducting abortions.  That belief is not supported by the language of the law itself and would lead to the absurd conclusion that a medical school graduate never needs to get a license to perform abortions.
While the state’s attorney has the discretion to consider extenuating circumstances when recommending penalties, the complete absence of any charges for the many criminal violations that occurred at the clinic sends the wrong message about protecting women and rule of law.
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