By Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - More than 60 North Dakota lawmakers want to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that overturns a state law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant.

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

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Republican Rep. Bette Grande of Fargo urged Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to appeal Hovland’s ruling. The letter was signed by 61 GOP lawmakers and two Democrats, Sen. David O’Connell, of Lansford, and Rep. Naomi Muscha, of Enderlin.

“The letter was specifically sent as an encouragement and there is no hidden agenda behind it,” Grande, an ardent opponent of abortion and the bill’s prime sponsor told the AP. “We just want to let (Stenehjem) know that nothing has changed.”

The state has 30 days to appeal the decision, the deadline of which is at week’s end.

Abortion rights advocates call the heartbeat law the most restrictive in the country and an attempt to shutter the state’s sole abortion clinic in Fargo. Supporters of the measure have said it’s a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Backed by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, the Red River Clinic filed a lawsuit against the heartbeat law last July.

David Brown, one of the attorneys representing the clinic, said Monday that his organization is committed to challenging the fetal heartbeat bill on behalf of the clinic.

“We will do everything to ensure safe, legal abortions are available to the people of North Dakota,” he said.

Last year, lawmakers in North Dakota allocated $400,000 that was requested by Stenehjem to defend against any lawsuits arising from the state’s new abortion laws.

Records show that the state has spent $234,597 defending new abortion laws, including $154,749 on the fetal heartbeat measure.

Grande called the legal costs “a drop in the bucket” for the oil-rich state.

“It’s not that costly,” she said. “I would love to not have this lawsuit and have the federal government give rights back to the state. They took away state’s rights on this issue.”

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