Federal Court Blocks The Strictest Abortion Ban In The Country

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The most stringent abortion ban in the country will remain blocked from taking effect, thanks to a ruling handed down from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit this week.

On Wednesday, the federal court permanently blocked North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban, affirming several lower decisions that have prevented the law from being enforced in the state.

North Dakota’s so-called “fetal heartbeat ban,” approved in 2013, represents one of the most extreme state-level attempts to cut off legal abortion services. Six-week abortion bans are so radical that many GOP lawmakers don’t support them, acknowledging that this policy goes too far to violate the protections under Roe v. Wade — which guarantees access to legal abortion until the point of viability, which occurs months later. At just six weeks, which could be barely after a woman’s first missed period, most women don’t even know they’re pregnant yet.

“Today’s decision reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution protects women from the legislative attacks of politicians who would deny them their right to safely and legally end a pregnancy,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group that brought the legal challenge against the law, said in a statement.

Arkansas is the only other state that’s passed an extreme abortion ban based on the fetal heartbeat framing. There, the law is written in a way that bans abortion after 12 weeks. The Eighth Circuit blocked that ban in May on similar grounds.

Across the country, as states pass an increasing number of new laws aimed at restricting access to abortion, courts are stepping in to prevent many of those policies from taking effect.

However, that doesn’t mean reproductive rights proponents are successfully fending off most of the attacks on women’s right to choose. Even though strict abortion bans aren’t passing court muster, abortion opponents are making significant inroads in other ways. They have been particularly successful in targeting abortion clinics for closure, largely by passing complicated state laws that require providers to meet impossible standards. And this month, they have also successfully stoked a massive controversy over Planned Parenthood’s alleged mishandling of fetal tissue donations — sparking congressional investigations and renewing calls to defund the national women’s health organization.