Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down North Dakota’s 6-Week Abortion Ban

Kris Kitko leads chants of protest at an abortion-rights rally at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Monday, March 25, 2013. More than 300 demonstrators attended the rally protesting a package of measures that would give the state the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/James MacPherson)
Kris Kitko leads chants of protest at an abortion-rights rally at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Monday, March 25, 2013. More than 300 demonstrators attended the rally protesting a package of measures that would give the state the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/James MacPherson)

A federal appeals court has struck down the earliest state ban on abortion in the country, a move that could invite the Supreme Court to weigh in on one of the nation’s most controversial social issues in the middle of a presidential election year.

The 8th. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday struck down a 2013 North Dakota law banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, or about six weeks into a pregnancy. The court said the North Dakota law violates Supreme Court precedent establishing that abortion is legal until a fetus is viable outside of the womb, usually about 24 weeks into pregnancy.

The state now has decide whether it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which has not ruled how far along into a pregnancy states can ban abortion since the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when it recognized the viability standard.

The justices last year refused to take up a lower court ruling that struck an Arizona law banning abortion after 20 weeks. But several lower courts are now considering the legality of state laws prohibiting abortion at various stages of pregnancy, which may encourage the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The North Dakota ruling comes as abortion opponents’ top target, Planned Parenthood, finds itself in the middle of controversy after the release of undercover videos showing two executives discussing the price of handling fetal tissue after an abortion. The group says the practice of donating tissue is legal and only done with a patient’s consent, but opponents allege the videos prove Planned Parenthood is selling the organs of aborted fetuses for profit. Congressional committees are looking into the group’s practices, and GOP lawmakers are trying to secure votes to cut off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding in light of the videos.

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SOURCE: Politico, Jennifer Haberkorn

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