North Dakota’s “Fetal Heartbeat” Law Permanently Blocked

North Dakota

On January 25th, the “fetal heartbeat” law, a North Dakotan law that banned many abortions and was among the toughest abortion laws in the nation, was permanently blocked by the Supreme Court. SCOTUS refused to review a lower court’s ruling from July 2015 that overturned the law, thereby ending the legal process and permanently blocking the legislation.

The “fetal heartbeat” law was viewed by some Republican politicians in North Dakota, like Governor Jack Dalrymple, as “a legitimate attempt by a state Legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade,” while opponents viewed it as an attempt to effectively ban abortion in the entire state.

According to NPR’s Jennifer Ludden: “North Dakota’s 2013 law would have banned abortions before many women even realize they’re pregnant. Lower court judges blocked it, saying the Supreme Court has made clear that abortions are allowed until a fetus is viable—around 23 or 24 weeks. But some of those judges also suggested the high court reconsider the concept of viability, given medical advances.

“North Dakota had argued viability begins at conception, since embryos can be kept alive outside the womb, in a lab. The high court did not go there. Last week, it also rejected Arkansas’s effort to ban abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.”

The main sticking point for judges was that the laws were inconsistent with standard set by SCOTUS that ties abortion restrictions to the viability of the fetus. The law’s supporters, however, were lobbying for SCOTUS to re-evaluate the case to account for modern advances in medicine and science. Judge Bobby Shepherd wrote that the current framework “discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children.”

It is no surprise that SCOTUS didn’t review the fetal heartbeat law; each year, SCOTUS receives 7,500 requests and takes on no more than 100 cases. Given that SCOTUS appeared to completely agree with a lower court’s decision, refusing to review the case was the simplest way to address the case.