The North Dakota law, HB 1456, directly challenged Roe v. Wade by banning abortions before viability and as early as 6 weeks. The law - styled as a "fetal heartbeat" ban - would have created harsh penalties for physicians who knowingly violated the ban, making it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The law had been temporarily blocked since July.
"The court was correct to call this law exactly what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). CRR challenged the "heartbeat" ban on behalf of North Dakota's sole abortion clinic. "But women should not be forced to go to court, year after year in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights," continued Northup. "We hope today's decision, along with the long line of decisions striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the US, sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away."
The ban was part of a series of anti-abortion laws signed into law last year in North Dakota, including, among other things, an admitting privileges requirement and a ban on medication abortion. CRR filed lawsuits challenging those provisions as well as the 6-week ban. The admitting privileges case settled last month, and the medication abortion ban is currently being considered in the North Dakota Supreme Court.
North Dakota will also vote in November on a personhood measure - called Measure 1 - that would amend the North Dakota state constitution to provide an "inalienable right to life" at "every stage of development." If passed by North Dakota voters, Measure 1 would ban all abortions in the state, without any exceptions, and could make illegal certain forms of birth control, stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization. In addition, Measure 1 threatens the provision of end-of-life care, may prevent individuals from making their own personal decisions concerning the use of life support, and interfere with organ donation.
Media Resources: Center for Reproductive Rights 4/16/14; Associated Press 4/16/14; RH Reality Check 4/16/14; Feminist Newswire 3/16/13, 7/23/13