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Federal Judge Overturns N.D. 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban

Federal Judge Overturns N.D. 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban

April 17, 2014 — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a North Dakota law (HB 1456) that banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, the AP/Boston Globe reports (AP/Boston Globe, 4/16).

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit in June 2013 on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic of Fargo. A federal judge later that year issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law, which banned abortions as early as six weeks.

CRR also requested a permanent injunction in its 2013 filing. The group argued at a hearing last week that the law would outlaw most abortions in North Dakota. The state argued that life begins at conception and that a heartbeat historically signifies something is alive (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/8).

Wednesday's Ruling

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said that the "invalid and unconstitutional" law "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge."

He wrote that the Supreme Court "has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability," adding that "this Court is obligated to uphold the existing Supreme Court precedent" until the high court "eventually weigh[s] in on this emotionally-fraught issue."

Reaction

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement that the court "was correct to call this law exactly what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women."

She added, "But women should not be forced to go to court, year after year in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights." She said, "We hope today's decision, along with the long line of decisions striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the U.S., sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away."

State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said that he would review the ruling and speak with the governor to decide how the state will proceed. "There are those who believed that this was a challenge that could go to the Supreme Court," he said, adding, "Whether or not that's likely is something we need to confer about" (AP/Boston Globe, 4/16).