North Dakota lawmakers push Stenehjem to appeal ruling blocking fetal heartbeat anti-abortion law
BISMARCK - More than 60 North Dakota lawmakers are urging Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to appeal a federal judge's ruling that permanently blocked a state law that would have created the strictest abortion ban in the nation.
In his order filed April 16 in Bismarck, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland wrote that the North Dakota ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected would essentially ban all abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy and "cannot withstand a constitutional challenge."
The state has 30 days to appeal, which puts the deadline at this coming Friday, though extensions may be granted.
Sixty-three lawmakers, including two Democrats, signed the April 21 letter written by state Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, who introduced the bill creating the ban.
"I had a number of constituents and legislators that had gotten a hold of me and asked if there was anything they could do," Grande said in a phone interview Monday. "This was just a letter just to let Wayne know that we're still here and if you need our support, here we are."
Grande said she emailed lawmakers who voted in favor of House Bill 1456 - it passed 63-28 in the House and 26-17 in the Senate - to give them the chance to add their names to the letter. She said gave them about 48 hours to respond, and she later received replies from five or six additional lawmakers who wanted to sign the letter after she'd already sent it.
Attorney general's spokeswoman Liz Brocker said Monday morning that Stenehjem had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling and was unavailable for comment.
The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a legal challenge to the law in June on behalf of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, the state's lone abortion provider.
Hovland granted a preliminary injunction in July that temporarily blocked the bill from taking effect. His ruling last month, in which he wrote that the state "has presented no reliable medical evidence to justify the passage of this troubling law," permanently blocked the law.
Grande noted in her letter to Stenehjem that a bipartisan majority in the Legislature passed the law and that Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed it, calling it "a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1963 ruling on abortion.
"The majority of North Dakotans agree on this question and they deserve to be heard," the letter states. "The baby's heartbeat deserves to be heard, too. ... To stop at a lower court level is to deny justice."