N.D. governor signs strict abortion law

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FARGO, N.D. -- Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota approved the nation's toughest abortion restrictions Tuesday, signing into law a measure that would ban most abortions and inviting a legal showdown over just how much states can limit access to the procedure.

Mr. Dalrymple, a Republican, signed into law three bills passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The most far-reaching law forbids abortion once a fetal heartbeat is "detectable," which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Fetal heartbeats are detectable at that stage of pregnancy using a transvaginal ultrasound.

Most legal scholars have said the law would violate the Supreme Court's finding in Roe v. Wade that abortions were permitted until the fetus was viable outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks into pregnancy. Even some leaders of the anti-abortion movement nationally have predicted that laws banning abortion so early in pregnancy are virtually certain to be declared unconstitutional by federal courts.

"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," Mr. Dalrymple said in a statement.

The Supreme Court, he added, "has never considered this precise restriction" in the heartbeat bill.

"I think there's a lot of frustration in the pro-life movement," said Paul B. Linton, a constitutional lawyer in Illinois who was formerly general counsel of Americans United for Life. "Forty years after Roe v. Wade was decided, it's still the law of the land."

But the North Dakota fetal heartbeat law and others like it, he said, "have no chance in the courts."

Abortion-rights advocates condemned the governor's decision as effectively banning abortion in the state and framing the laws as unconstitutional and an attack on women. Without judicial intervention, the three bills are scheduled to take effect Aug. 1.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, in New York, condemned the new laws and said it would file a challenge to the fetal heartbeat ban.

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