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North Dakota appeals ruling on fetal-heartbeat abortion ban

BISMARCK -- North Dakota is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that permanently blocked a state law that would have banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The appeal was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Bismarck on behalf of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled April 16 that the law would essentially ban all abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy and “cannot withstand a constitutional challenge.”

The appeal asks the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether the law is constitutionally sound and must be upheld because the factual underpinnings of two landmark abortion cases -- Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 -- “have been shown to be false and invalid” and should be overturned.

It also raises questions of due process, including whether “a genuine issue of material fact existed, as to when viability of an unborn child occurs” that should have kept Hovland from awarding summary judgment to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. The center filed a legal challenge to the law in June on behalf of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s lone abortion provider.

Finally, the appeal raises questions related to whether the law discriminates against women on the basis of sex in violation of a woman’s right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

David Brown, a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday the organization was prepared for a possible appeal and will do “whatever’s in our power to ensure the reproductive rights of North Dakota women are safeguarded.”

More than 60 North Dakota lawmakers signed a letter sent to Stenehjem last month urging him to appeal Hovland’s ruling blocking the law, which would have established the strictest abortion ban in the nation.

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