The North Dakota Senate on Friday passed a bill banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks of pregnancy. If signed by the governor, it would be the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.
The vote comes about one week after Arkansas legislators overrode a governor’s veto to become the first state to ban abortions involving fetuses 12 weeks or older.
The North Dakota legislation is among a string of antiabortion bills that the state’s lawmakers have been considering this session. A bill that bans abortions because of genetic defects or for gender selection also passed the Senate on Friday.
“We all know the significance of a heartbeat. It is the universally accepted biological proof of life,” said Sen. Spencer Berry, a sponsor of the bill, in a brief discussion before the vote. No one spoke in opposition and it passed 26 to 17.
The law is certain to face legal challenges. Earlier this month a federal judge struck down a 2011 Idaho law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks, saying the law violates U.S. Supreme Court decisions which prohibit unduly impeding abortions before a fetus is able to live outside the womb.
Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute that advocates for reproductive rights, said some states are in a “race to the bottom” to ban abortion as early as possible.
“These bills ban abortion at a very early point in pregnancy, a point at which many women may not realize they are pregnant.”
The bill provides an exception to protect the life of the mother. Doctors who perform abortions if a heartbeat has been detected could face prison time and a fine. Women who undergo abortions will not be punished.
The Red River Women’s clinic in Fargo is the only abortion clinic in North Dakota. The offices were closed Friday afternoon but a message in bold red letters on its website read: “Abortion is STILL legal in the state of North Dakota -- despite legislators’ attempts to restrict access to abortion. Red River Women’s clinic is OPEN, available for appointments and LEGALLY performing abortions in the state of North Dakota."