Last month, a federal court permanently blocked a North Dakota law that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy. Now more than 60 anti-choice lawmakers in the state want that ruling appealed.
HB 1456 would have prohibited abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many patients even know they are pregnant. Any physician who knowingly violated the ban would have faced felony charges punishable by up to five years in prison.
Last June, the Center for Reproductive Rights sued on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic, and its medical director to block the law. In July, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland issued an order temporarily blocking the ban, calling the legislation “a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women.” Last month, he made that order permanent.
According to reports, anti-choice lawmakers in North Dakota sent a letter to state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem urging him to appeal the ruling because, according to the letter’s author, Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo), most North Dakotans support the law. The legislation was passed by a wide majority in the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.
The “heartbeat” ban is considered one of the strictest abortion bans in the country and was just one of several anti-abortion restrictions to sweep through the state under Republican control of the legislature. Other restrictions include a measure that would essentially ban medication abortion in the state and impose the medically unnecessary requirement that abortion providers obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions. The North Dakota Supreme Court is currently considering the ban on medication abortion, while the admitting privileges case has been settled.
Lawmakers urged Attorney General Stenehjem to appeal the federal court ruling despite the fact that the state is racking up enormous legal fees defending anti-abortion laws in court. As reported by RH Reality Check, from January 2011 to December 2013 the state spent nearly $230,000 in taxpayer money on attorneys’ fees defending anti-choice measures. Meanwhile, at the request of Stenehjem, the state set aside $400,000 in 2013 to defend anti-choice restrictions in court.
All told, 61 Republican lawmakers and two Democrats signed the letter requesting that the state appeal the ruling.