North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) signed a series of bills on Tuesday that ban abortion as early as six weeks and make it much more difficult for abortion doctors to operate a practice, making his state the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to female reproductive rights.

"Although the likelihood of [the 6-week abortion ban] surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," he said in a prepared statement. "Because the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed state restrictions on the performing of abortions and because the Supreme Court has never considered this precise restriction... the constitutionality of this measure is an open question."

He added that the legislature should make funds available to defend the law in court.

Critics of the law, which was pitched as a so-called "heartbeat bill," say that the Supreme Court was clear in Roe v. Wade that abortion is legal until a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 22-24 weeks into a pregnancy. The new law bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can sometimes occur before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

"This sweeping package of bills will not stand up to constitutional scrutiny," Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood in North Dakota, said in prepared text. "But as a result of North Dakota’s leaders’ disregard for women’s health, the state will endure months and years of drawn-out litigation costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. What a reckless and appalling waste of resources."

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, was even more strident in her objection to North Dakota's new anti-abortion laws. “North Dakota has set a new standard for extreme hostility toward the rights and health of women, the U.S. Constitution, and 40 years of Supreme Court precedent," she said in a statement to reporters. "We will not allow this frontal assault on fundamental reproductive rights to go unchallenged.'

“We don’t need to guess about the brutal harm this criminalization of abortion will cause," Northup continued. "We know from the United States’ own shameful history prior to Roe v. Wade and from examples around the world that women desperate to end a pregnancy will find ways to do so whether it is safe and legal or not—and some will suffer and die as a result."


Photo: Flickr/ Beechwood Photograph, creative commons licensed.