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Federal Court Permanently Blocks North Dakota ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Ban

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Issued by a federal district court, Wednesday's order permanently blocks the law, which would have banned abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

Reproductive rights advocates scored a major victory Wednesday when a federal district court permanently blocked a North Dakota law that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

The law at issue, HB 1456, would have prohibited abortions after a heartbeat was detected and subjected any physician who knowingly violated the “heartbeat ban” to felony charges punishable by up to five years in prison. In June 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued to block the law. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic, and its medical director, argues that the law clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and unnecessarily places women’s health in danger by banning pre-viability abortions. In July, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland issued an order temporarily blocking the ban, calling the legislation “a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women.

Wednesday’s order blocks the law permanently.

“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,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “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. We hope today’s decision, along with the long line of decisions striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the U.S., sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away.”

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The fight over HB 1456 is not the only reproductive rights challenge happening in North Dakota. The Center for Reproductive Rights also filed lawsuits challenging measures that would essentially ban medication abortion in the state and impose the medically unnecessary requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they are performing abortions. The North Dakota Supreme Court is currently considering the ban on medication abortion, while the admitting privileges case has been settled.

As reported by Rewire, taxpayers paid nearly $230,000 in attorneys’ fees from January 2011 to December 2013 defending anti-choice measures in North Dakota. At the request of North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, the state set aside $400,000 in 2013 to defend anti-choice restrictions in court.

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