The North Dakota State Senate voted Friday for a bill that bans abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy, in what looks to be the nation's most extreme restriction on female reproductive health services yet.

The Associated Press noted that H.B. 1456 (PDF) received virtually no debate, and passed shortly after the chamber approved a separate measure that would ban abortions based upon genetic defects. The Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion up until a fetus becomes viable, usually around 22-24 weeks.

The North Dakota House has already passed the measure, which now heads to Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) for a signature or veto. It's not clear whether he intends to sign the bill, which would punish doctors who perform an abortion without checking to see if a fetal heartbeat is detectable. Doctors say that can happen as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, sometimes even before the woman realizes she's pregnant.

Although North Dakota lawmakers -- most of whom are Republican -- overwhelmingly passed the bill, the proceedings did not go off without a hitch. Sen. Connie Tripplet (D) abruptly stood and left the Senate as members were preparing to cast their ballots, according to The Associated Press. Her sudden absence caused a delay in the vote as senators shuffled to quickly pass a motion to formally excuse her from the chamber.

"The passage of this law is nothing short of a frontal assault on the U.S. Constitution, 40 years of Supreme Court precedent, and the health and fundamental rights of women," Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in an advisory. "This will not stand. We strongly urge Governor Dalrymple to protect the rights and health of the women of North Dakota by vetoing this noxious and dangerous bill."

Similar so-called "heartbeat bills" have become popular with Republicans across the nation in recent years. Ohio's state senate killed one such bill last November, but lawmakers in Arkansas passed one earlier this month that would ban most abortions as early as 12 weeks.

Update: Planned Parenthood statement

“These bans are outrageous and unconstitutional and they will not stand. The state-by-state race to the bottom on women’s health is not what Americans elected their lawmakers to focus on. A majority of Americans consistently believe that abortion should remain safe and legal in this country," Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.

“We urge North Dakota Governor Dalrymple to veto the Legislature’s abortion bans immediately when they reach his desk.”


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