One of two North Dakota bills now awaiting the governor's signature would outlaw most abortions once a "detectable" fetal heartbeat is heard — which could be as early as five or six weeks gestation.
That measure — if enacted — would be the strictest anti-abortion law in the land.
The second bill, also passed by the North Dakota legislature on Friday, would be the first in the nation to prohibit most abortions based solely on a child's sex or "genetic abnormalities" such as Down syndrome.
Opponents of the law promptly urged North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple not to sign the bills.
Mr. Dalrymple, a Republican, generally opposes abortion, but did not immediately comment on whether he would sign either or both measures.
In both chambers, Republicans have enough votes to override a veto of the two easily passed bills, known as House Bills 1456 (heartbeat bill) and 1305 (sex selection).
Arkansas lawmakers recently made headlines by passing a heartbeat law that prohibited most abortions after 12 weeks gestation if a fetal heartbeat was detected by an abdominal ultrasound. That law —as well as another one that outlaws most abortions after 20 weeks, out of concern that fetuses can feel pain at that age — were both enacted over the veto of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat.
Both North Dakota bills permit abortions under certain circumstances, such as when the life of the mother is endangered or when there is an ectopic pregnancy. They also set criminal charges for physicians who perform illegal abortions.
"The heartbeat bill is very simple," State Rep. Bette Grande, a lead sponsor of both bills, explained in a recent blog.
"Everyone understands what a beating heart means. It means life. The Heartbeat Bill prohibits an abortion when the baby's heartbeat is present, except to protect the life or health of the mother," Ms. Grande wrote March 12 on SayAnythingBlog.com.
Ms. Grande added that while she would not be surprised by a legal challenge to the heartbeat bill, it is "not intended to overthrow Roe v Wade, as many opponents claim."
Instead, it was "drafted to fit within the legal framework established by the U.S. Supreme Court," while recognizing "40 years of advancements in medicine, science and technology."
During the debate on the second bill, state Sen. Margaret Sitte, a Republican, asked, "Is it right to destroy life because of the perception that a person may not meet someone else's standards as being acceptable to live?" State Sen. Carolyn Nelson, a Democrat, objected, saying that medical decisions should be made "between a woman, the doctor and her God."
The North Dakota Catholic Conference applauded the bills.
However, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said the measures are "outrageous and unconstitutional and they will not stand."
"The state-by-state race to the bottom on women's health is not what Americans elected their lawmakers to focus on. A majority of Americans consistently believe that abortion should remain safe and legal in this country," she said, urging Mr. Dalrymple to veto the bills immediately.
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