North Dakota passes Arkansas for strictest abortion law

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) on Tuesday signed the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, enacting a law that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

A fetal heartbeat can be present as early as six weeks, which would make North Dakota, by far, the state that bans abortion at the earliest point.

With Dalrymple's signature, North Dakota leapfrogged Arkansas for the most restrictive abortion law. The Razorback State earlier this month enacted a law that would effectively ban abortions after 12 weeks, or when a fetal heartbeat can be detected with an abdominal ultrasound.

Dalrymple also signed two other abortion bills that would prevent abortion in cases of gender preference or genetic defects -- something a few other states have, as well -- and require doctors performing abortions to have hospital-admitting privileges.

Dalrymple acknowledged that the laws were likely to be tested in court.

"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," Dalrymple said of the fetal heartbeat law.

He added of the hospital-admitting privileges requirement: "The added requirement that the hospital privileges must include allowing abortions to take place in their facility greatly increases the chances that this measure will face a court challenge. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate and new question for the courts regarding a precise restriction on doctors who perform abortions."

In November 2014, North Dakota voters will decide another key abortion-related measure: whether to amend the state constitution to define a fertilized egg as a person, which would effectively outlaw abortion. Similar so-called "personhood" measures have failed in several other states, but it could have a chance in socially conservative North Dakota.

North Dakota only has one abortion clinic still in operation. It is located in Fargo.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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