A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked a North Dakota law that bans abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, or once the baby’s heartbeat is detected. Calling the law “clearly invalid and unconstitutional,” U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland prohibited it from taking effect Aug. 1.
“There is no question that [the North Dakota law] is in direct contradiction to a litany of United States Supreme Court cases addressing restraints on abortion,” Hovland wrote.
North Dakota’s Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple originally signed the bill—the strictest pro-life legislation to date—on March 26. The bill also bans abortions due to birth defects such as Down syndrome and requires North Dakota’s lone abortion facility to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, filed the lawsuit in June. Red River director Tammi Kromenaker said the six-week abortion ban would stop about 90 percent of abortions at the center.
The lawsuit also challenges the measure preventing abortion for babies with Down syndrome, the first law of its kind in the nation. Kromenaker said the center wants to overturn the genetic defect law, but isn’t seeking an immediate injunction to block it because abortions are not performed at the Red River center for that reason.
Another lawsuit challenging the measure requiring abortionists to be physicians and have hospital admitting privileges is in the works. Lawyers defending abortion access have combined that challenge with another suit against a 2011 North Dakota law that bans the off-label use of Cytotec, a drug used to induce chemical abortions. A state judge ruled against the 2011 law last week saying it violates the state and U.S. constitutions and ruling lawmakers have no “compelling state interest” to justify the “infringement.” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem intends to appeal the decision to the North Dakota Supreme Court. The judge has not yet issued a ruling on the admitting privileges law.
Before the North Dakota legislature passed the six-week ban, it passed a 20-week abortion ban because of evidence a baby can feel pain at 20 weeks in the womb. The Red River center is not challenging the 20-week ban because it doesn’t perform abortions after 16 weeks.
“We have our job to do,” Stenehjem said, “We need to convince [Hovland] why the Legislature wanted to enact the [six week] law.” Stenehjem said the state will ask the court for a trial and has hired an attorney to help argue the case.