Little more than a week after Arkansas adopted the country’s most stringent abortion limits, banning the procedure at 12 weeks of pregnancy, the North Dakota Legislature on Friday passed a more restrictive bill that would ban most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
The Legislature also passed a second measure that would ban abortions sought because of a genetic abnormality or to select the gender of the child.
Both bills must be signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, to become law. As of Friday afternoon, the governor had not said whether he would do so.
“It’s a good day for babies,” said Rep. Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo who introduced both bills. The state’s only abortion clinic is in Fargo.
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No other state has barred abortions because of evidence that a fetus has a genetic defect such as Down syndrome, which rises in incidence with maternal age, leading many pregnant women to seek tests for the disorder. Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Arizona have all banned abortions for the purpose of gender selection.
National abortion-rights groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, condemned the measures that passed the North Dakota Senate on Friday, after previous approval by the House.
Supporters of both measures said their goal is to challenge the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
One of the newly passed North Dakota bills outlaws abortions when a fetal heartbeat is “detectable” using “standard medical practice.” Heartbeats are often detectable at about six weeks, using an intrusive transvaginal ultrasound, or at 10 to 12 weeks when using abdominal ultrasounds. The bill does not specify a time threshold or whether doctors with a patient in the initial weeks of pregnancy must use the transvaginal probe.
Doctors who knowingly perform abortions in violation of the measure, if it is adopted, could be charged with a felony that carries a five-year prison sentence; the patients would not face criminal charges. The law makes exceptions for abortion to save the life of the mother or for severe medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.