WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court will not allow North Dakota to enforce a law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The justices on Monday turned away the state’s appeal of lower court rulings that struck down the 2013 fetal heartbeat law as unconstitutional. The law never took effect, and abortion rights supporters said it was the strictest anti-abortion measure in the country.
The high court last week rejected Arkansas’ bid to enforce its own fetal heartbeat law, banning some abortions at 12 weeks. Both measures were struck down by a unanimous panel of three judges appointed by President George W. Bush to the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The judges said the laws were inconsistent with the standard set by the Supreme Court that generally ties abortion restrictions to the viability of the fetus. But the judges urged the Supreme Court to re-evaluate its abortion cases to take account of changes in medicine and science, and the wishes of elected state lawmakers. The current framework “discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children,” Judge Bobby Shepherd wrote for the panel, which also included Judges William Benton and Lavenski Smith.
North Dakota’s Republican-dominated legislature approved the law in 2013, though it was quickly put on hold after the state’s lone abortion clinic, in Fargo, filed a lawsuit that July.
The Fargo clinic performs about 1,250 abortions a year and is served by out-of-state physicians licensed to practice in North Dakota. The nearest out-of-state abortion clinics are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Minneapolis.
The case is Stenehjem v. MKB Management Corp., 15-627.