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Judge strikes down N.D. fetal heartbeat abortion law

BISMARCK – A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a North Dakota law that would ban fetal-heartbeat abortions, calling it “an invalid and unconstitutional law” that would ban nearly all abortions at the state’s only clinic providing the procedure.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland wrote in his ruling that after a careful review of the entire record, “there is no question that North Dakota House Bill 1456 is in direct contradiction” of U.S. Supreme Court case law.

“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,” he wrote.

Approved by state lawmakers about a year ago, the bill would make it a Class C felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.  

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge in June on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo.

Hovland granted a preliminary injunction in July that temporarily blocked the bill from taking effect, calling it “clearly an invalid and unconstitutional law.”

Special Assistant Attorney General Daniel Gaustad of Grafton said earlier this month that if Hovland didn’t grant a trial on the lawsuit, the state would appeal to a federal appeals court “and if need be to the Supreme Court.”

The law was one of four abortion laws passed by the Legislature last year. In signing three of the laws, Gov. Jack Dalrymple called them “a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

Of the four laws, the only one not to face a legal challenge was a ban on abortion after more than 20 weeks into the pregnancy. The Center for Reproductive Rights has said the Fargo clinic doesn’t have legal standing to fight the 20-week law because it only performs abortions up to 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at