A federal appeals court has permanently blocked the nation's most protective pro-life law, a North Dakota measure that would ban abortions after a baby's heartbeat could be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks after conception.
Reuters reports that the bill, which Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple signed into law in March of 2013, would have made it a Class C felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.
Abortion rights advocates criticized it as the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation, and the ban was quickly put on hold after the only abortion clinic in the state, Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, filed a lawsuit.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled that the law "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge" and denounced it as "invalid and unconstitutional."
The appeals court panel also cited the Supreme Court's definition of viability, generally at about 24 weeks.
"Because there is no genuine dispute that H.B. 1456 generally prohibits abortions before viability - as the Supreme Court has defined that concept - and because we are bound by Supreme Court precedent holding that states may not prohibit pre-viability abortions, we must affirm," their opinion stated.
Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the overturning of the "heartbeat" abortion ban, telling reporters that "Today's decision reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution protects women from the legislative attacks of politicians who would deny them their right to safely and legally end a pregnancy."
Janet Crepps, a senior council at CRR, said the ruling is "very important - not just to women in North Dakota, but to women across the country,
The loss came as a disappointment to Gov. Dalrymple, who said the 6-week law was "a legitimate attempt by a state Legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."
However, it is not entirely clear the case is over. "Once the review is complete, we will make a determination of what further action, if any, is advisable," Attorney General Stenehjem said, the Star Tribune reports.
LifeSite News notes that the state has spent $312,861 of the $800,000 it has appropriated to defend the law from court challenges and has been eager to test its legal theory in the hopes of undermining the legal basis of abortion-on-demand.
According to the Pew Research Center, opinions regarding abortion have "remained relatively stable for more than 20 years." The study found that 51 percent of US adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 49 percent who say it should be illegal all or most of the time.