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Appeals Court Strikes Down N.D. 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban

July 23, 2015 — The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a lower court decision overturning a North Dakota law (HB 1456) that banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, AP/CBS News reports.

It is unclear whether the state will appeal to the Supreme Court. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said the state "will make a determination of what further action, if any, is advisable" after reviewing the ruling.

According to AP/CBS News, the state has set aside $800,000 in funds to defend its antiabortion-rights laws (AP/CBS News, 7/22).

Background

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the North Dakota law, which banned abortion as early as six weeks, 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.

In April 2014, a federal judge struck down the law as an "invalid and unconstitutional" measure that "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge" (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/17/14).

In January, a three-judge panel on the 8th Circuit heard oral arguments in the North Dakota lawsuit, as well as in a separate case involving a 12-week abortion ban (Act 301) in Arkansas (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/14). The panel overturned the Arkansas ban in May and, in July, the 8th Circuit rejected an appeal from the state seeking a full-court review (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/9).

Latest Ruling

Ruling on the North Dakota law, the appeals court affirmed the lower court decision, stating, "Because there is no genuine dispute that (North Dakota's law) generally prohibits abortions before viability -- as the Supreme Court has defined that concept -- and because we are bound by Supreme Court precedent holding that states may not prohibit pre-viability abortions, we must affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to the plaintiffs" (AP/CBS News, 7/22).

However, the 8th Circuit also urged the Supreme Court to revisit the fetal viability standard (Baker, National Journal, 7/22).

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northrup praised the ruling, saying, "Today's decision reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution protects women from the legislative attacks of politicians who would deny them their right to safely and legally end a pregnancy" (AP/CBS News, 7/22).