North Dakota Governor Signs Earliest U.S. Abortion Limit

North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed a ban on abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the narrowest window of any U.S. state and one he said would test the boundaries of the Constitution.

The measure, which makes it a felony to perform a nonemergency abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, is scheduled to take effect Aug. 1. Dalrymple, a 64-year-old Republican, also signed a bill today making his state the first to bar terminations because of genetic abnormalities, and another that may shut the state’s sole abortion clinic by requiring its doctors have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Abortion-rights advocates called the time limit the most extreme and dangerous of any U.S. state. Supporters said the time limit could lead to a direct challenge of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that in 1973 gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus reaches viability outside the womb, after about 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,” Dalrymple said in a statement. He called on members of the Republican-dominated legislature to set aside money for a long and costly court battle.

No Exceptions

The Center for Reproductive Rights said it would fight the time limit on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo.

North Dakota is “now home to the most extreme restrictions on women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights in the nation,” said Nancy Northup, president and chief executive officer of the New York-based group, said in a statement.

The laws make no exceptions for rape or incest victims. At six weeks, a fetus is typically smaller than a dime and many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Next year, voters in the third-least populous state will decide whether to amend their constitution with a so-called personhood measure that could end the procedure entirely. The proposed amendment, which lawmakers approved last week, would establish that “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

Approval would make North Dakota the first state with such an amendment, which doctors said could bar some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization and complicate end-of-life care. Voters in Mississippi and Colorado have spurned such proposals in recent years.

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