North Dakota abortion law overturned by federal judge, who calls abortion ban "invalid and unconstitutional"

(Photo: Acelya Aksunkur)

A North Dakota law banning abortions from the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected has been overturned by a federal judge.

The abortion ban was called "invalid and unconstitutional," in U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland's ruling. Judge Hovland added that the law "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge."

"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," Hovland wrote.

"The controversy over a woman's right to choose to have an abortion will never end. The issue is undoubtedly one of the most divisive of social issues. The United States Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on this emotionally-fraught issue but, until that occurs, this Court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent."

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem has not decided whether an appeal will be filed.

"There are those who believed that this was a challenge that could go to the Supreme Court," Stenehjem told the Associated Press. "Whether or not that's likely is something we need to confer about."

The heartbeat legislation, signed by Governor Jack Dalrymple, was one of four pro-life laws passed in North Dakota last year with the support of the state's legislature.

The state's only abortion facility, Fargo's Red River Clinic, challenged the legislation in July.

Center for Reproductive Rights CEO Nancy Northrup commended Judge Hovland on his ruling.

"The court was correct to call this law exactly what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women," Northrup said.

"But women should not be forced to go to court, year after year in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights. We hope today's decision, along with the long line of decisions striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the U.S., sends a strong message to politicians across the country that our rights cannot be legislated away."

According to the American Pregnancy Association, a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks gestational age.