BISMARCK, N.D. -- A Republican governor signed legislation Tuesday on the strictest abortion law in the country, banning the procedure if a fetal heartbeat can be detected -- which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
Supporters said the North Dakota law is a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
The law also is an attempt to close the state's only abortion clinic. Red River Women's Clinic director Tammi Kromenaker called the legislation "extreme and unconstitutional."
Abortion-rights advocates have promised a long legal fight they say the state can't win.
North Dakota lawmakers also moved last week to outlaw abortion in the state by passing a resolution defining life as starting at conception, essentially banning abortion. The measure is likely to come before voters in November 2014.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Tuesday also signed into law another measure that makes the state the first to ban abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome.
Another state in the U.S. heartland, Arkansas, passed a ban earlier this month that prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected using an abdominal ultrasound. A fetal heartbeat can generally be detected earlier using a vaginal ultrasound, but Arkansas lawmakers balked at requiring women to have the more invasive imaging technique.
North Dakota doctors performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected could face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Women having an abortion would not face charges.
-- The Associated Press