Federal Judge Overturns Restrictive 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Ban In N.D.

| by Jared Keever

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a North Dakota law that was considered one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The law prevented doctors from performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat had been detected — essentially banning all abortions six weeks after conception.

The Jamestown Sun reports that U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland called the law “invalid and unconstitutional.” 

State lawmakers passed House Bill 1456 last year. The law made performing a so-called fetal heartbeat abortion a Class C felony.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the bill into law noting that it may not hold up to judicial scrutiny. 

"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” he said at the time, according to a CNN story.

Hovland’s ruling referenced Roe v. Wade and he made it clear that he found little room for debate about the 40-year-old decision.

"A woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than 40 years. The United States Supreme Court has clearly determined the dispositive issue presented in this lawsuit. This court is not free to impose its own view of the law,” he wrote.

Prior to his ruling, Hovland had granted an injunction in July that prevented the law from taking effect. That followed a lawsuit, filed in June by the Center for Reproductive Rights, challenging the law on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. 

Workers at the clinic said the law would force them to close. Had that happened, women seeking an abortion in North Dakota would have had to leave the state. A story from Reuters indicated that the closest alternate clinics would have been in Minneapolis, Minn. or Sioux Falls, S.D. 

Nancy Northrup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the ruling.

"The court was correct to call this law exactly what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women. 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 … sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away.”

Sources: The Jamestown Sun, CNN, Yahoo (Reuters)