The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to revive a North Dakota law that would ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, letting stand a federal appeals court decision striking it as unconstitutional.
At issue is HB 1456, signed into law by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple in March 2013. The measure bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks post-fertilization. The law contains a very narrow exception for when the life or health of the patient is in danger, and subjects any provider who violates it to felony criminal charges.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Thomas A. Dickson of the Dickson Law Office in Bismarck filed a lawsuit in June 2013 challenging the ban on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s only abortion provider. A federal district court judge in July 2013 temporarily blocked the ban before permanently striking it down in April 2014, noting, “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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed that decision in July 2015. Attorneys for the State of North Dakota then asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision in late 2015.
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Attorneys supporting the North Dakota ban urged the Roberts Court to take the case as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two Supreme Court cases that establish states may not ban abortions prior to fetal viability.
Monday’s order rejected that request and came just days after the Roberts Court turned away an Arkansas law that would have also restricted abortion prior to fetal viability. The Arkansas law, passed by the state’s GOP-majority legislature, would have banned abortion at 12 weeks with a very narrow exception. It remains permanently blocked.
“Whether in North Dakota, Arkansas, or Texas, politicians simply cannot rob women of their constitutional rights,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following Monday’s order. “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.”