Federal Court Overthrows N.D. Law That Prohibits Aborting a Baby With a Heartbeat

A federal appeals court agreed Wednesday that one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws is unconstitutional — a North Dakota statute banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a decision last year from U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, who ruled the law unconstitutional. The law was approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature in 2013, though it was quickly put on hold after the state’s lone abortion clinic filed a lawsuit that July.

Several conservative states have passed restrictive abortion laws in recent years, but abortion rights supporters say North Dakota’s 2013 fetal heartbeat law was the strictest in the country.

Supporters said the law was meant to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the state would appeal the case, though lawmakers have set aside $800,000 to defend the state’s abortion laws.