N.D. makes next move after controversial abortion law overturned

The Red River Women's Clinic, North Dakota's only abortion clinic, is seen in this picture provided by CBS Fargo affiliate KXJB-TV. KXJB-TV

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota on Wednesday appealed a federal judge's ruling that overturned a state law banning abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled last month that the law is "invalid and unconstitutional" and that it "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge."

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement that Hovland's ruling was not unexpected.

"The Legislature passed the law in hopes that a higher court would revisit the issue," Stenehjem said. "It seems prudent that an appellate court should have an opportunity to consider the issue rather than have one judge overturn the judgment of the Legislative Assembly."

The ban was one of four measures that the Republican-controlled state Legislature and GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple passed last year that made it more difficult to get an abortion in North Dakota than in any other state.

The most restrictive measure banned the procedure when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy - and before some women even know they are pregnant.

The state's only abortion clinic, in Fargo, filed a lawsuit in July against the measure. Hovland issued a temporary injunction a month later barring the law from taking affect.

More than 60 North Dakota lawmakers recently wrote a letter to Stenehjem urging him to appeal the federal judge's decision.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which is helping the Red River Women's Clinic, has said it is committed to challenging the fetal heartbeat bill on behalf of the clinic.

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