FARGO — A federal judge selected by former president George W. Bush has temporarily blocked the enforcement of a North Dakota pro-life ‘heartbeat bill’ that was set to go into effect next month.
As previously reported, lawmakers in the state passed the legislation in March, which was later signed by Governor Jack Dalrymple. According to reports, the bill would require any abortionist in the state to check for a fetal heartbeat, which some note can be detected by medical equipment as early as 12 weeks. However, fetal development experts state that an infant’s heart begins beating just 20-25 days after conception.
If the abortionist performs the abortion despite the existence of a heartbeat, he or she would face felony charges, and could spend up to five years in prison and/or pay up to $5,000 in fines.
“The images and heartbeat from the womb provide strong and overwhelming evidence of — at the very least — potential life,” said Senator Spencer Berry, a sponsor of the bill. “And we have been instructed by the Supreme Court to protect that very potential.”
However, federal District Judge Daniel Hovland, nominated by George W. Bush in 2002, disagreed today. In issuing a temporary injunction against the new law–as per the request of New York’s Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo–Hovland pointed to the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade.
“The state has extended an invitation to an expensive court battle over a law restricting abortions that is a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women,” he wrote in his 22-page decision.
“The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally said that no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability,” Hovland continued. “North Dakota House Bill 1456 is clearly unconstitutional under an unbroken stream of United States Supreme Court authority.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights praised the ruling.
“The nation’s most extreme abortion ban has been blocked, and the message to hostile politicians could not be clearer: The rights of women guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and protected by 40 years of Supreme Court precedent cannot be legislated away,” legal director Bebe Anderson told reporters.
However, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem stated that abortion activists shouldn’t be so quick to declare victory.
“I respect the attention Judge Hovland has given to this case,” he said. “It is also important to remember that courts routinely grant preliminary injunctions in these types of cases, so this was not unusual or unexpected. This is an early stage of the proceeding. As it is the constitutional duty of the Attorney General to defend legislation enacted by the North Dakota Legislature, we will continue to defend the challenged statutes through the established legal process.”
A similar law was passed in Arkansas this year, and was likewise challenged in the courts. The law was then blocked by Judge Susan Weber Wright, also a Bush nominee.
The North Dakota case will now move forward in district court.