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The Battle for Pro-Life Advocacy in North Dakota

By David Tamisiea
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
April 2024

If anyone doubted that the abortion lobby wants to silence the Catholic Church and other pro-life advocates, they only need to look at what is happening in North Dakota right now.

You may not read about it in the news media, but the wealthy national pro-abortion machine recently went to the North Dakota courts to try to intimidate and interfere with the pro-life advocacy work of the North Dakota Catholic Conference and two of our pro-life allies.

This past February, the Red River Women’s Clinic abortion facility and four pro-abortion doctors served the North Dakota Catholic Conference, the North Dakota Family Alliance, and North Dakota Right to Life with sweeping subpoenas demanding the production of all documents and communication related to our pro-life advocacy over the past several years, including our lobbying efforts for the passage of North Dakota’s 2023 abortion statute (SB 2150) banning virtually all abortions in North Dakota. The Red River clinic – which no longer operates in the state – also demanded to take the deposition of my predecessor, co-director, and general counsel for the conference, Christopher Dodson. The subpoenas were issued in a lawsuit filed by the Red River clinic and pro-abortion doctors against the state of North Dakota, claiming that North Dakota’s abortion ban violates certain fundamental rights under the North Dakota Constitution and is unconstitutionally vague. The three North Dakota pro-life organizations are not parties to the suit but are being targeted for our success in advocating for pro-life laws in North Dakota.

The subpoena demands are not legally relevant to the abortion advocates’ lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the abortion statute. The requests are also extraordinarily burdensome, asking us to review and produce thousands of pages of documents unrelated to their claims. The subpoena requests are also invasive and try to force us to disclose confidential and privileged communications with our bishops, board members, legislative network, other lobbyists, allied organizations, state legislators, and even parishioners. The subpoenas also violate the Church’s First Amendment rights to engage in free speech, assembly, and petition of our government to advocate for our pro-life positions. Lastly, the subpoenas infringe on the Church’s religious liberty rights and freedom to advocate for our faith-inspired positions in the public square that are founded upon the dignity of the human person, the sacredness of human life, and the common good.

Why would the plaintiffs pursue such meritless subpoenas? We believe their true agenda is to use these abusive discovery tactics to silence, discourage, and distract the leading North Dakota pro-life organizations from our work. In fact, we have learned that the pro-abortion lobby has used this tactic elsewhere to target, intimidate, and harass pro-life advocacy groups into silence in other cases, including Catholic conferences in other states.

At last count, the plaintiffs are represented by a team of at least 11 lawyers, mostly from New York City, who work for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Gender Justice, and the international mega-law firm, Weil Gotshal & Manges. Make no mistake about it, these are large and powerful entities with deep pockets who want to use their power, money, and influence to make abortion widely accessible worldwide, including in North Dakota. On the other hand, the three pro-life organizations in North Dakota are small non-profit organizations that run on shoe-string budgets with just a couple staff members and volunteers to do our pro-life work. This really is a scenario of David versus Goliath.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference, the North Dakota Family Alliance, and North Dakota Right to Life joined forces and fought back against the plaintiffs’ meritless subpoenas. After spending countless hours preparing a motion to block the plaintiffs’ subpoenas, at the 11th hour on the evening before our deadline to respond, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs backed down and agreed to withdraw all the subpoenas. This is a great victory. Nevertheless, the conference has had to incur significant attorneys’ fees and spend a great deal of time assisting our lawyers – time that would have been spent on the regular work of the conference.

The battle to build a culture of life continues. What happened in this case shows how far the pro-abortion lobby is willing to go to try and silence the cause of life. We do not intend to let them. Please pray for us and our pro-life allies as we continue to fight for a culture of life in North Dakota.

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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