A federal judge has overturned the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban

The North Dakota law would have banned abortion before most women would even know they are pregnant

Topics: Abortion, abortion rights, Reproductive Rights, Women's Rights, reproductive health, North Dakota, red river women's clinic, ,

A federal judge has overturned the nation's most restrictive abortion ban Protestors demonstrate during the March For Life anti-abortion rally. (Credit: AP)

A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a North Dakota law banning abortion before most women would even know they are pregnant.

The state’s “fetal heartbeat” law criminalized abortions at six weeks; it was the most extreme pre-viability ban in the nation. Under the law, a doctor who performed an abortion after six weeks could be charged with a felony and sentenced to five years in prison.

“The North Dakota strict ban on abortions at the time when a ‘heartbeat’ has been detected — essentially banning all abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy — cannot withstand a constitutional challenge,” wrote U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland. “A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than 40 years. The United States Supreme Court has clearly determined the dispositive issue presented in this lawsuit. This court is not free to impose its own view of the law.”

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple questioned the constitutionality of the law in 2013, but proceeded to sign it anyway. “Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” he said at the time.

Democratic lawmakers in the state also predicted the law’s quick demise once it was challenged in court, but warned that defending the unconstitutional law would place a heavy burden on taxpayers. Democratic state Sen. Mac Schneider cautioned his colleagues that the law would waste tax dollars on “expensive and potentially protracted abortion litigation,” and that “there hasn’t been near enough attention given to the costs as we’ve debated these issues … we will be spending money on attorneys.”

According to records obtained by RH Reality Check, North Dakota has spent more than $200,000 defending its abortion restrictions in court, and has set aside additional funds to continue these battles.

The ruling is welcome news to the Red River Women’s Clinic, the last remaining abortion provider in the state. “The decision is a sigh of relief for us and the women we serve. It’s not a surprise. We fully expected the decision to go our way but it’s always nice when it finally happens,” said director Tammi Kromenaker.

Reproductive rights advocates celebrated the victory, but expressed fatigue over having to go to court time and again to preserve access to abortion care in states across the country. “The court was correct to call this law exactly what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women. But women should not be forced to go to court, year after year in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“We hope [Wednesday's] decision, along with the long line of decisions striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the U.S., sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away.”

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...