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Judge: North Dakota 'fetal heartbeat' abortion law unconstitutional

North Dakota, a state with only one abortion clinic, loses first round on law that could have banned abortions as early as six weeks.

By Frances Burns

BISMARCK, N.D., April 16 (UPI) -- North Dakota's ban on abortions once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat contradicts U.S. Supreme Court rulings, a federal judge said Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland's decision is certain to be appealed. Last year, he blocked the state from enforcing the law, the strictest of new limits on abortion passed recently by Republican state legislatures.

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“The North Dakota strict ban on abortions at the time when a ‘heartbeat’ has been detected -- essentially banning all abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy -- cannot withstand a constitutional challenge,” Hovland wrote Wednesday.

The Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, which challenged the law on behalf of North Dakota's only abortion clinic, hailed the decision.

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“Today’s decision puts a stop to this attempt by North Dakota politicians to send the women of their state back to the dark days before Roe v. Wade, when reproductive health care options were limited at best and deadly at worst," Nancy Northup, the center's president said.“Women in North Dakota already face innumerable obstacles to safely and legally ending a pregnancy -- and this law would have completely eliminated all safe or legal options for hundreds of miles in every direction."

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The legislature passed four new abortion laws last year. One that restricts abortion after 20 weeks has not been challenged because the Red River Women's Center in Fargo only performs the procedure up to 16 weeks.

Last year, Gov. Jack Dalrymple called the laws “a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

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[Bemidji Pioneer] [Center for Reproductive Rights]

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