• North Dakota would make abortion a felony when fetal heartbeat is detectable (at about six weeks).
• Would be first state to prohibit abortion when fetus has a genetic disorder.
North Dakota passes strictest limits on abortion
- Article by: Paloma Esquivel  Los Angeles Times
- March 15, 2013 - 11:47 PM
North Dakota lawmakers 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 and the first to bar terminations sought because of genetic abnormalities.
The approval by the Republican-led Senate comes about one week after Arkansas legislators overrode a governor’s veto to adopt the country’s most stringent abortion limits, banning the procedure at 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“We all know the significance of a heartbeat. It is the universally accepted biological proof of life,” said North Dakota state Sen. Spencer Berry, a sponsor of the bill.
If approved by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, would make North Dakota the latest state to test how far lawmakers can go in limiting when and how women can terminate pregnancies. And the law would be certain to face legal challenges.
Dalrymple has not said whether he would sign the measures, but state Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, who co-sponsored the bills, said she expects him to sign them.
The measure would make it a felony for a doctor to perform a nonemergency abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as five or six weeks — before many women know they’re pregnant. Another measure would prohibit abortions sought because a fetus has been or could be diagnosed with any genetically inherited defect, disease or disorder without exception for those that are fatal. No other state has barred abortions because of evidence that a fetus has a genetic defect such as Down syndrome, which rises in incidence with maternal age, leading many women to seek tests for the disorder. Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Arizona have banned abortions for the purpose of gender selection.
North Dakota’s bill makes exceptions for abortion to save the life of the mother or for other severe medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest.
Until last week, lawmakers had mostly sought to ban abortions only after the 20th week of pregnancy, around the time women commonly receive ultrasound examinations to screen for fetal anomalies.
The bill does not specify a time threshold or whether doctors must use an intrusive transvaginal probe, which can detect fetal heartbeats weeks earlier than with abdominal ultrasounds. A proposed law in Virginia last year that would have required use of the transvaginal ultrasound caused a national outcry, and the bill was ultimately shelved. Arkansas declared a 12-week limit specifically to avoid that controversy.
But some experts said that doctors in North Dakota, which has only one clinic performing abortions, in Fargo, could face prosecution if they did not use the vaginal ultrasound when necessary to detect a heartbeat. Doctors who violate the measure, if it is adopted, could be charged with a felony that carries a five-year prison sentence; the patients would not face criminal charges.
National abortion rights groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, condemned the measures. The groups warned that if adopted, both measures would be declared unconstitutional by federal courts. Under Supreme Court rulings, women have a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks into pregnancy.
The New York Times and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
© 2013 Star Tribune