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North Dakota Lawmakers Pass Abortion Ban After Six Weeks, Strictest in Nation

Mar 15, 2013 07:01 PM EDT

The North Dakota legislature approved two bills on Friday that would make it illegal for women to have an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is heard, which can be as early as five or six weeks, and in cases where the abortion is due to an inherited fetal abnormality, such as Down syndrome

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple generally opposes abortion but has not said whether he will sign the bill into law. The vote came with almost no debate in the Senate and after the same chamber approved another measure that would make North Dakota the first to ban abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome."

The North Dakota bill permits some exceptions, including abortions for a "medical emergency" or to prevent death or severe injury of the pregnant woman. Both bills were sponsored by GOP state Rep. Bette Grande, a well-known pro-life supporter, and colleagues in both chambers.

Meanwhile earlier this month, Arkansas became the first state to enact - over the Democratic governor's veto - a "fetal heartbeat" law to prohibit abortions, with some exceptions, after 12 weeks gestation.

To date, there is no other state in the U.S. that has banned abortions due to evidence that a fetus has a genetic defect such as Down syndrome, which rises in frequency with maternal age, leading many older would-be mothers to undergo prenatal testing.

Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Arizona have all banned abortions for the purpose of gender selection.

Under Supreme Court rulings, women have a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks into pregnancy.

"We urge the governor to veto all of these bills to ensure that this personal and private decision can be made by a woman and her family, not politicians sitting in the capitol," said Jennifer Dalven, the director of the A.C.L.U.'s Reproductive Freedom Project, according to the New York Times.

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