Federal Court Rules North Dakota's Extreme Abortion Ban Unconstitutional

| Wed Apr. 16, 2014 3:34 PM EDT

On Wednesday, a federal judge blocked a North Dakota law that would have banned all abortions after a heartbeat is detectable in the fetus, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The judge, Daniel Hovland, called the ban—which passed last year and was immediately challenged by the Red River Women's Clinic, the only abortion provider in the state—"invalid and unconstitutional," and said it would impose an "undue burden on women seeking to obtain an abortion."

The North Dakota law is one of the most far-reaching abortion bans in the country. Many women aren't aware that they are pregnant until well after six weeks into a pregnancy. Under the North Dakota law, those women wouldn't be able to seek abortions at all.

North Dakota is one of several states that have pushed laws banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. In March, a federal judge struck down a similar ban Arkansas had passed last year. But losses in the courts haven't stopped these efforts from spreading—the Alabama House passed a fetal heartbeat bill last month, and state legislatures in Wyoming, Mississippi, and Ohio have considered similar legislation in the past year.