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Federal judge blocks most restrictive abortion law in the country

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of North Dakota's new abortion law -- the nation's most restrictive.

The law, which was set to take effect next week, would ban abortions beginning at six weeks, when the fetal heartbeat can be detected.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland concluded the North Dakota law contradicts U.S. Supreme Court cases addressing abortion restraints and violates a 40-year precedent established in Roe v. Wade.

If the law were to take effect, Hovland said nearly 90 percent of the abortions currently performed at the Red River Women's Clinic, the sole clinic providing abortions in North Dakota, would be prohibited and the clinic would likely have to shut down.  

“The State of North Dakota has presented no evidence to justify the passage of this troubling law,” Hovland said in his order. “The State has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women.”

The Supreme Court defined viability, or the point that a fetus can survive outside the womb, at 28 weeks in Roe v. Wade. This marker has caused several restrictive abortion laws to be blocked by federal state judges in states such as Wisconsin, Idaho and Arkansas.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William Conley of Wisconsin issued a temporary block on a recently enacted abortion bill that mandates women to have an ultrasound prior to the abortion and requires doctors who provide abortion services to have hospital admitting privileges.

The law would have forced the closure of two of the state’s four abortion clinics. Conley noted that the law went from proposal to enactment in 43 days and had no medical purpose to support it.

In March, an Idaho federal judge reversed a 2011 state law, which made it a felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there was proof the pregnancy endangered the mother’s life.

Since 2010, 180 abortion restrictions have been enacted in 30 states, according to Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights think tank.

Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a bill that imposes a series of restrictions, including a ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy. North Carolina's House passed a bill that directs state regulators to change standards for abortion clinics to bring them in line with more regulated outpatient surgical centers. And Missouri's governor let a bill become law without his signature that requires doctors to be in the room for the initial dose of a drug used in medication abortions.

Laws such as North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban do not hold up to legal challenges, Nash said.

“They will fail because they are clearly unconstitutional,” she said. “What it is more concerning are these laws that push the envelope.”


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