Judge temporarily blocks North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban, calling it ‘clearly unconstitutional’

Lenell Ripley, second from left, cries as she demonstrates with other abortion rights supporters outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Texas, Thursday July 18, 2013. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed sweeping new abortion restrictions on Thursday that could shutter most of the clinics in the nation's second most populous state. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)
Lenell Ripley, second from left, cries as she demonstrates with other abortion-rights supporters outside the Capitol auditorium in Austin, Texas, Thursday July 18, 2013. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)  signed sweeping new abortion restrictions Thursday that could shutter most of the clinics in the nation's second most populous state. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)

A federal judge in North Dakota on Monday blocked the state's law banning abortions as early as six weeks after fertilization, ruling the measure cannot take effect until the legal challenge it faces is resolved.

The preliminary injunction granted at the request of the Center for Reproductive Rights means the nation's most restrictive abortion law--which would bar abortions as soon as the fetal heartbeat is detectable--will not take effect Aug. 1, as originally planned. it also suggests that even as states across the country enact measures limiting abortion access, some of these laws may never take effect because of stiff legal challenges.

U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland’s ruling criticized the North Dakota measure in the harshest possible terms, calling it "clearly unconstitutional under an unbroken stream of United States Supreme Court authority.”

“The State has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women," Hovland wrote. "The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally said that no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability."

While the issue of viability is left to individual doctors to determine, it is usually considered to be 24 weeks after fertilization.

On Monday, Jeff Zent, a spokesman for North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), declined to comment on the ruling, saying, "It's standard practice in our office not to comment on ongoing litigation."

When Dalrymple signed the bill into law in March, he acknowledged it would face a major fight in court. Several other new abortion laws, in states ranging from Wisconsin to Arizona, are being challenged in state and federal courts.

“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," he said in a statement at the time.

Bebe Anderson, director of the U.S. legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, welcomed Monday's ruling.

“The nation’s most extreme abortion ban has been blocked, and the message to hostile politicians could not be clearer: the rights of women guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and protected by 40 years of Supreme Court precedent cannot be legislated away," she said. “For the last four decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently recognized a woman’s right under the U.S. Constitution to make her own reproductive health care decisions, and we are confident that the courts will continue to affirm that fundamental right as this legal battle continues.”

Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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