The North Dakota Senate voted Friday to approve new measures that ban abortion at the first sign of fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as five or six weeks into pregnancy.
House Bill 1456 will also block doctors from performing abortions due to gender or genetic abnormalities, The Associated Press reported, making North Dakota one of the hardest states to obtain a legal abortion. Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple is expected to sign the measures into law.
"The heartbeat is society's marker for life," said state Representative Bette Grande of Fargo, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
Grande added that she hopes the bill could lead to a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion across America.
Bloomberg.com highlighted that many women don't even know they are pregnant when the fetus is only six weeks old, and is the size of a dime. North Dakota's new law, which is likely to be signed into effect by Governor Jack Dalrymple, makes exceptions in cases where the mother's life is in danger and needs emergency medical intervention.
With the approved measures, North Dakota would be the first state to ban abortions based on genetic abnormality. It would also join Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Arizona in banning sex-selective abortions.
Grande has argued that sex-selective abortions usually target female fetuses because of preferences for a baby boy. She also contends that abortions based on genetic abnormalities have "no place in civilized society."
"Whether this is challenged in court is entirely up to the abortion industry," Grande commented. "Given the lucrative nature of abortion, it is likely that any statute that reduces the number of customers will be challenged by the industry."
AP reported that such a legal challenge is likely, as the measures of Bill 1456 directly challenge Roe v. Wade. The Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws in the U.S, said that North Dakota's bill is the latest in a "tidal wave of abortion restrictions."
"We have seen efforts to ban abortion entirely and those attempts have failed," spokeswoman Elizabeth Nash said. "Now they're moving toward banning abortions as early as possible."
One thing not clarified by the new bill is how doctors will detect fetal heartbeats. Those found guilty of performing an abortion after a fetus develops a heartbeat could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, though mothers would not face charges.