BISMARCK (AP) - A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a North Dakota law banning abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before many women know they're pregnant.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled that the law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected is "invalid and unconstitutional" and that it "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge."
The measure was among four anti-abortion bills that Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed into law last year with overwhelming support from the state's Republican-led Legislature. Backed by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, the state's only abortion clinic, in Fargo, filed a lawsuit against the measure in July.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he was unsure of the state's next move.
"I still need to read and digest the opinion and visit with the governor and others to see what we want to do from here," Stenehjem said. "There are those who believed that this was a challenge that could go to the Supreme Court. Whether or not that's likely is something we need to confer about."
Stenehjem said the ruling was no surprise because Hovland had signaled his intentions before the law was to go into effect on Aug. 1.
"He fairly telegraphed it when he issued his preliminary injunction," Stenehjem said, referring to the Bismarck-based federal judge's decision to block the law while considering the lawsuit.
Abortion rights advocates call the heartbeat law the most restrictive in the country and an attempt to shutter Red River Women's Clinic. Supporters of the measure have said it's a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.