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Federal court strikes down N. Dakota’s Heartbeat Bill

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BISMARCK, ND, July 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A federal appeals court has struck down the nation's most protective pro-life law, a North Dakota measure that would bar abortions after a baby's heartbeat could be detected.

The law, which Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple signed into law in March 2013, would have prohibited abortionists from performing most abortions after six weeks.

The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits any state from unduly burdening women seeking abortions before the point of viability, which it defined at 24 weeks gestation in the 1992 Casey decision.

A state expert, OB/GYN Dr. Jerry Obritsch, had argued before the court that viability began much earlier due to scientific advancements, which some consider controversial.

"The State’s declaration, by Dr. Obritsch, contends viability occurs at conception, because IVF 'allow[s] an embryonic unborn child to live outside the human uterus (womb) for 2 - 6 days after conception,'" the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals noted in its 14-page ruling in MKB Management Corp. v. Wayne Stenehjem. Strenehjem is the state attorney general. MKB Management Corp. is the business name of the Red River Women's Clinic, the state's last abortion facility, located in Fargo.

The appeals court added in the decision, which was handed down today, that Dr. Obritsch's definition of viability "differs from the Supreme Court's."

"Because there is no genuine dispute that [North Dakota's law] generally prohibits abortions before viability — as the Supreme Court has defined that concept — and because we are bound by Supreme Court precedent holding that states may not prohibit pre-viability abortions, we must affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to the plaintiffs," it concluded.

However, the judges took pains to note that "the evolution in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence reflects its increasing recognition of states’ profound interest in protecting unborn children." 

The Appeals Court also suggested the Supreme Court should "reevaluate its jurisprudence" on abortion, since it failed to recognize state rights in protecting children, robbed states of that right, and had been eclipsed by new scientific advances and standards. 

Abortion advocates hailed the ruling as a triumph for women's rights. "No woman should ever have to fear her constitutional rights could disappear overnight by virtue of where she lives," said Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is based in New York. 

Janet Crepps, a senior council at CRR, said the ruling is “very important – not just to women in North Dakota, but to women across the country.

The loss came as a disappointment to Gov. Dalrymple, who said the 6-week law was intended "to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."

The law came as part of a package of pro-life legislation that would also end abortions based on birth defects such as Down syndrome and require abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Gov. Dalrymple received bona fide death threats for his efforts.

A federal judge halted the heartbeat law that July, just as it was about to take effect. 

It is not clear the case is over. "Once the review is complete, we will make a determination of what further action, if any, is advisable," Attorney General Stenehjem said. 

The state has spent  $312,861 of the $800,000 it has appropriated to defend the law from court challenges and has been eager to test its legal theory in the hopes of undermining the legal basis of abortion-on-demand.

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