Federal court declares North Dakota's abortion law unconstitutional

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A U.S. District Court has struck down North Dakota's law banning abortions as early as six weeks after conception.

The law passed last year made abortions illegal as soon as a fetus' heartbeat could be detected. In the decision issued Wednesday Judge Daniel Hovland called the law unconstitutional.

As the Associated Press notes, Hovland wrote: "The United States Supreme Court has spoken and has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability." The AP says fetuses are usually viable at about 22 to 24 weeks.

The suit challenging the law was filed last June by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic. That clinic in Fargo is the only North Dakota facility that provides abortions. Its director tells MSNBC the clinic serves a number of women from Minnesota and South Dakota, as well.

Tammi Kroemenaker called Wednesday's court ruling a relief and told the network: "We will continue to provide services in our state, because women still need those services.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights issued a statement lauding the ruling.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the AP he will take some time to digest the ruling and confer with Gov. Jack Dalrymple before deciding whether to appeal the ruling. Stenehjem said he was not surprised by Wednesday's ruling, particularly since Judge Hovland had issued an injunction last summer blocking the law from taking effect until he ruled on the legal challenge.

The measure known as the "heartbeat law" was part of a package of three bills Gov. Dalrymple signed last year that collectively gave North Dakota the strongest anti-abortion laws in the country.

Judge Hovland 's ruling is 25 pages long. It's available here.

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