Federal Judge Blocks North Dakota Abortion Law, Calls It ‘Unconstitutional’

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed legislation March 26 that would have made the state the nation's most restrictive in terms of abortion rights. (Dale Wetzel / Associated Press / March 26, 2013)

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed legislation March 26 that would have made the state the nation’s most restrictive in terms of abortion rights. (Dale Wetzel / Associated Press / March 26, 2013)

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland blocked a new North Dakota law that bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — as early as six weeks into pregnancy, calling the law “clearly invalid and unconstitutional.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the legislation in March that would give North Dakota the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The measure headlining the legislation, was a ban on the procedure as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that can happen as early as six weeks in. Under the legislation, however, the measures won’t go into effect until August 1,  that gave the pro-choice crowd a short window to challenge it in court.

Today that window just got a lot wider—and the law’s already dismal prospects of survival became that much more clear. The Washington Post with the details from the federal court ruling that temporarily blocks the law until the legal challenge is fully settled:

The preliminary injunction granted at the request of the Center for Reproductive Rights means the nation’s most restrictive abortion law … will not take effect Aug. 1, as originally planned. It also suggests that even as states across the country enact measures limiting abortion access, some of these laws may never take effect because of stiff legal challenges. U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland’s ruling criticized the North Dakota measure in the harshest possible terms, calling it “clearly unconstitutional under an unbroken stream of United States Supreme Court authority.”

There is only one abortion clinic in North Dakota, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, and it has to fly doctors in from out of state to provide the procedure. Hovland’s ruling notes that the law would basically make it impossible to get an abortion in North Dakota:

Typically only women who have regular menstrual periods, keep close track of them, and take a pregnancy test promptly after a missed period at four weeks LMP, will know they are pregnant by six weeks. Because the Clinic only performs abortions one day per week, and cannot safely perform abortions before five weeks [of her last menstrual period], [the law] will effectively limit a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion to a single day during the pregnancy’s fifth week.

North Dakota’s law is the most strict in the country so far, but last week Texas lawmakers introduced a bill that would also outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Today’s ruling in North Dakota is a preliminary injunction that stops the law from going into effect until the full case can be heard.

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