Judge calls ND’s ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban unconstitutional

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic, poses for a photograph in Fargo, North Dakota July 2, 2013. Unless pending legal challenges lead...
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic, poses for a photograph in Fargo, North Dakota July 2, 2013. Unless pending legal challenges lead...
Dan Koeck/Reuters

The growing movement to roll back reproductive rights across the country was interrupted on Monday, when a federal judge in North Dakota issued a temporary block on the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, known as the “fetal heartbeat” ban.

The law, adopted in March by the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature, prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable–which can happen as early as the six-week mark, before some women even know they’re pregnant. It also requires the state’s sole abortion clinic to give women the opportunity to view an ultrasound 24 hours prior to the procedure. According to a press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights, the law does not make clear whether or not the clinic is also required to offer women the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said the law was “clearly invalid and unconstitutional based on the United States Supreme Court precedent in Roe V. Wade.” The 1973 decision guarantees the right to an abortion until viability is reached (around 24 weeks of pregnancy). Judge Hovland granted a temporary injunction blocking North Dakota from enforcing the ban, which was slated to kick in August 1.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit last month on behalf of North Dakota’s only abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. If the law were to take effect, said Judge Hovland Monday, nearly 90% of the abortions currently performed at the clinic would be prohibited, likely forcing it to shut down.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, said she was “pleased and relieved” that Judge Hovland issued the stay.
“I don’t think any of these laws have anything to do with women’s health,” said Kromenaker Monday in an interview with  msnbc. “Six weeks is extremely early,  before many women even know they’re pregnant. By stopping this law, it will give women an opportunity to find out they’re pregnant and think through their decision.”
In addition to the six-week ban, the lawsuit is also challenging a newly-signed measure that prohibits women from getting an abortion if the reason is sex selection or because the fetus has a genetic abnormality. North Dakota would be the only state to prevent a women from aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down Syndrome, or another life-altering disorder.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who signed the measures into law, declined to comment on the suit. His spokesman, Jeff Zent, cited only “a standing policy not to comment on litigation.”
Monday’s injunction marks a major legal victory for women’s rights activists, who have been fighting a number of state-sanctioned initiatives that they argue are designed to limit a woman’s right to choose. As the Washington Post points out, lawsuits challenging abortion laws are currently pending in Wisconsin, Virginia, Arkansas, Kansas, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. And last week, hours after a 20-week abortion ban became law in the Lone Star State, Texas Republicans introduced a so-called “trigger” provision that would ban abortions at six weeks, should Roe v. Wade be overturned–a goal widely perceived to be the driving force behind this recent wave of restrictions.
NBC News’ Pete Williams contributed to this report. Last updated at 6:15 p.m.