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Federal judge rules North Dakota fetal heartbeat law unconstitutional

North Dakota is one of several conservative states that have passed new abortion restrictions in the past few years.
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United States District Court Judge Daniel Hovland has overturned a North Dakota law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, ruling it as “invalid and unconstitutional, and unable to withstand a constitutional challenge.” The law had been condemned by abortion rights advocated in the state as being the most restrictive in the nation after it was signed by Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple last year, along with three other anti-abortion bills. The lawsuit against the heartbeat bill was filed by the Red River Clinic (North Dakota’s sole abortion clinic) of Fargo in July 2013.

“The United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability. The controversy over a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion will never end. The issue is undoubtedly one of the most divisive of social issues,” Hovland stated in his ruling. “The United States Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on this emotionally fraught issue. But until that occurs, this Court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent.”

His decision was praised by Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center of Reproductive Rights (a New York based organization which supports the Fargo clinic), who stated that “Women should not be forced to go to court, year after year, in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights.”

Fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as 6 weeks after conception, often before many women even are aware that they are pregnant. In a similar case, Arkansas’s fetal heartbeat law, which would have prevented an abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, was also over turned by a different federal judge. In both cases, the attorneys general of each of these states said they would look into the possibility of appealing the judges’ rulings.

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