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SCOTUS Rejects Request To Review Ruling Against N.D. 'Heartbeat' Ban

January 26, 2016 — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a lower court ruling that struck down a North Dakota law (HB 1456) that would ban abortion care as early as six weeks, Reuters reports (Hurley, Reuters, 1/25).

According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the ban never went into effect. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) said the Supreme Court's refusal to consider the case is "the end of [the state's] litigation on this issue" (Macpherson, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/25).

Background

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the North Dakota law in June 2013 on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic of Fargo. The law, which would make performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable a Class C felony, would have been the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.

Later in 2013, a federal judge 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."

In July 2015, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision overturning the law. However, the 8th Circuit also urged the Supreme Court to revisit the fetal viability standard. The North Dakota Attorney General in November 2015 asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

Abortion-rights supporters and opponents had said it was unlikely that the Supreme Court would hear the case, pointing to the Supreme Court's decision in 2014 not to review a lower court ruling striking down an Arizona 20-week ban (HB 2036) (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/23/15).

The high court last week also rejected a request to consider a lower court ruling against an Arkansas law (Act 301) that would have banned abortion care at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Comments

Renee Stromme, executive director of North Dakota Women's Network, said, "We are glad the Supreme Court rejects the political attempts to infringe on women's private medical rights and reproductive health." She added, "With this matter settled, we now have the opportunity and responsibility for the state to focus on the issues that truly improve the lives of women and children."

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup also praised the ruling. "This utterly cruel and unconstitutional ban would have made North Dakota the first state since Roe v. Wade to effectively ban abortion -- with countless women left to pay the price," she said (Nowatzki, Forum News Service/Bismarck Tribune, 1/25).