N.D.'s 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban Becomes Law

By Andrew Lu on March 26, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

North Dakota's new "heartbeat" abortion ban, signed into law today by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, is the most restrictive in the nation. But it will likely be challenged in court.

The law prohibits all abortions as long as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, reports The Associated Press. This could potentially bar abortions anytime after the first six weeks of pregnancy, well within the first trimester.

In addition, Gov. Dalrymple also signed into law another measure that makes North Dakota the first state to prohibit abortions based on genetic defects like Down syndrome.

Here's what you need to know about these two laws:

The 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban

North Dakota's "heartbeat" abortion ban calls for felony charges for doctors who perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Doctors could face up to five years in prison if convicted. Women seeking abortions would not face charges.

The "heartbeat" ban goes a step further than Arkansas' recently passed 12-week ban on abortions. The 12-week period was chosen because at that point, the fetus' heartbeat can typically be monitored with an abdominal ultrasound.

However, when the more invasive vaginal ultrasound is used, the fetus' heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into the pregnancy, reports the AP.

While Arkansas lawmakers declined to use the "heartbeat" standard, requiring the more invasive vaginal ultrasound, North Dakota lawmakers apparently had no such qualms; however, North Dakota's law does not specify how the fetus' heartbeat should be detected.

The Genetic-Defect Abortion Ban

In a separate bill, North Dakota has now become the first state to prohibit abortions based on the results of genetic testing.

Toward the end of the first trimester, most pregnant women undergo testing to determine the risk of fetal genetic defects such as Down syndrome. In many cases, women at high risk for carrying a fetus with such a defect elect to abort.

Not surprisingly, abortion-rights advocates have promised a legal fight to both these measures. In fact, Gov. Dalrymple's statement upon signing the "heartbeat" abortion ban said, "the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question." To that end, Dalrymple is asking lawmakers to set aside funds for potential litigation.

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