Strictest state abortion ban in US moves forward

March 15, 2013, 2:53 pm

By JAMES MacPHERSON

BISMARCK, North Dakota (AP) — North Dakota on Friday moved closer to adopting what would be the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S., with lawmakers sending the governor measures that could set up a legal battle over the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized the procedure.

One bill would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and another would prohibit the procedure because of genetic defects such as Down syndrome. If the governor signs the measures, North Dakota would be the only state with those laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the measures "extreme," saying they would make North Dakota "the first state in the nation to ban most abortions."

Supporters of the measures said their goal is to challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Abortion remains one of the most sensitive issues in the U.S., and several states have tried to chip away at the Supreme Court ruling.

"It's a good day for babies," said Rep. Bette Grande, a Republican who introduced both bills.

Abortion-rights advocates say the measures are meant to shut down the state's only abortion clinic.

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple hasn't said anything to indicate he won't approve the measures. However, they have enough support in each chamber for the Legislature to override him.

A spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws throughout the U.S., said North Dakota's measures are the latest in a "tidal wave of abortion restrictions" in the U.S.

"We have seen efforts to ban abortion entirely, and those attempts have failed," spokeswoman Elizabeth Nash said. "Now they're moving toward banning abortions as early as possible."

One North Dakota measure would ban most abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Arkansas passed a 12-week ban earlier this month that prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier in a pregnancy using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women seeking abortions to have the more invasive imaging technique.

North Dakota's measure doesn't specify how a fetal heartbeat would be detected. Doctors performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected could face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Women having an abortion would not face charges.

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