On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court permanently blocked the enactment of North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat law,” which was widely regarded as the strictest abortion restriction in the country when it was approved.
The bill would have essentially banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, meaning a woman would be unable to terminate a pregnancy after about six weeks’ gestation, which is before many women even become aware that they are pregnant. Six weeks’ bans are so restrictive, that even in conservative states known for their restrictive abortion laws they have usually failed to garner support.
The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, which is the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, sued the state after the legislation was passed in 2013. A judge stepped in and blocked the law only one month before it was set to take effect. The law was ruled unconstitutional in July by a federal judge after several appeals. The state appealed the ruling one final time and the case was sent to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, SCOTUS essentially struck down North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban by refusing to review the ruling of the lower court.
According to opponents of the law, the bill violated the Roe v Wade decision, which guarantees women the right to abortion until the fetus is viable. The definition of the term “fetal viability” is where supporters based their argument for the fetal heartbeat ban.
As NPR reports:
North Dakota’s 2013 law would have banned abortions before many women even realize they’re pregnant. Lower court judges blocked it, saying the Supreme Court has made clear that abortions are allowed until a fetus is viable — around 23 or 24 weeks. But some of those judges also suggested the high court reconsider the concept of viability, given medical advances.
North Dakota had argued viability begins at conception, since embryos can be kept alive outside the womb, in a lab. The high court did not go there. Last week, it also rejected Arkansas’ effort to ban abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The only other state to attempt to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, is Arkansas. That bill banned abortion after 12 weeks, but was also struck down last year in the courts. The Supreme Court decided just a week ago that it will not hear an appeal on that case either.
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