Kris Kitko leads chants of protest at an abortion-rights rally at the state capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on March 25, 2013.
(Photo: James MacPherson, AP)
(USA TODAY) North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the nation's most restrictive ban on abortions Tuesday in what he said was a deliberate attempt to test the Supreme Court boundaries of Roe v. Wade.
One of three news laws bans performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Doctors performing such abortions could face up to five years in prison. Women having such an abortion would not face charges.
A second measure bans abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome, and a third adds new hospital admitting requirements that would make it more difficult for North Dakota's sole abortion clinic in Fargo to remain open.
The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws throughout the country, says Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma also have laws outlawing abortion based on gender selection.
Dalrymple acknowledged that a goal in signing the fetal heartbeat law was to push the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
"Although the likelihood of this measure 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.," the governor said in 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 also called on the Legislative Assembly "before it adjourns should appropriate dollars for a litigation fund available to the Attorney General" to pursue the case.
READ: The governor's statement
The governor also said that the added restrictions on hospital privileges "greatly increases the chances that this measure will face a court challenge."
Pro-choice advocates have promised a legal fight that they say will be long, costly and unwinnable for the state.
"With the stroke of the governor's pen, North Dakota politicians have taken away the right of a woman to make the best decision for herself and her family," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "These dangerous laws will prevent women, regardless of their circumstances, from accessing safe and legal abortion care. It is time that our elected representatives stopped playing politics with women's health."
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, called the growing number of state's approving anti-abortion laws as a "wake-up call" for what she described as "unprecedented attacks on women's rights and health."
"It is simply not acceptable that women's basic rights will depend on their zip code, with women in some states being treated as free agents and full citizens while other women lose the right to make their own health care decisions," Richards said in a statement.
On Monday, about 300 people turned out at at a rally at the North Dakota Capitol to urge the governor to veto the bills, The Bismarck Tribune reported. In a personal appeal to the governor, they chanted and carried signs vowing, "We won't go back, Jack."
Unlike other states that have passed restrictive measures, the North Dakota law does not specify how a fetal heartbeat heartbeat would be detected.
Arkansas passed a 12-week ban earlier this month that also prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. That ban is scheduled to take effect 90 days after the Arkansas Legislature adjourns.
A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier in a pregnancy using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women seeking abortions to have the more invasive imaging technique.
The Republican-led North Dakota Legislature has endorsed a series of anti-abortion measures this year. Last week, lawmakers moved to outlaw abortion in the state by passing a resolution defining life as beginning at conception, essentially banning abortion in the state. The measure is likely to come before voters in November 2014.
Representatives also endorsed two other anti-abortion bills last week that are awaiting Dalrymple's signature.
One would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on a controversial premise that fetuses feel pain at that point. Another measure requires a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital-admitting privileges.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo that is the target of one of the laws, said on The Rachel Maddow Show Monday night that North Dakota lawmakers "talk about things as if they know about what is going on in the clinic, although they have never visited the clinic."
She also said she believes that voters will not approve the so-called "personhood amendment" that will essentially outlaw abortion by conferring human rights on fertilized eggs.
"I think it is not in line with what regular North Dakotans want for our state," Kromenaker said.
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY