ND Fetal Heartbeat Law Blocked by High Court

North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat” law, the toughest ban on abortions in the nation when it was enacted in 2013, has been blocked permanently when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court’s ruling that overturned the law.


The law banned abortions as soon as a heartbeat was detected in the fetus, as early as six weeks into pregnancy, sometimes even before many women realize that they are pregnant. The lower court overturned the law, citing the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade that allowed abortions until a fetus is viable – around 23 to 24 weeks, and rejected the argument that viability begins at conception, since embryos can be kept alive outside the womb in a laboratory environment.

North Dakota’s sole abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, had challenged the fetal heartbeat law shortly after the Legislature approved it.

Besides North Dakota, other states that have recently been passing measures to limit the reproductive choices of women include:

  • Arkansas. In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme court rejected Arkansas’ effort to ban abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy. The law, enacted in 2013, generally banned abortions after the 12th week when a heartbeat had been detected, but allowed exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and in cases where the mother’s health was in serious danger.
  • Texas. In November 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the 2013 Texas law that has forced the closure of more than half of the state’s 41 clinics that perform abortions. This is the first time since 2007 that the court has agreed to consider an abortion case that “has the potential to affect millions of women and revise the constitutional principles governing abortion rights,” according to the New York Times.

Many states have been enacting restrictions to test the limitations of the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, and the court’s ruling in the Texas case, expected in June 2016, will likely apply to all of them.

Image courtesy of Douglas Palmer/flickr.