Federal judge deems fetal heartbeat law ‘unconstitutional’

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  April 16, 2014 at 6:26 PM EST

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the United States’ most restrictive abortion law, North Dakota’s prohibition of abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, calling it “invalid and unconstitutional.”

As a fetal heartbeat can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the law effectively banned abortion argued the Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s only abortion clinic. The clinic challenged the law after its passage in 2013.

Following that lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, who is based in Bismarck, temporarily blocked the law from taking effect. In a 25-page opinion released Wednesday, he rendered his ruling permanent, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

“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,” Hovland wrote. “This Court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent.”

In a statement, Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that Wednesday’s ruling “sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away.” The North Dakota attorney general’s office said it would “confer about” appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.