A Rare Win For Reproductive Rights In The One Of The Worst States For Abortion Access

Women in the state with the toughest abortion laws in the country won a major reproductive-rights victory Monday when the Supreme Court refused to review a North Dakota appeal on a lower court's overturning of the "Heartbeat Law," which would have effectively banned abortions in the state at six weeks. It was a rare bit of good news for abortion rights advocates at a time when reproductive rights across the country seem to be continually threatened. In 2015 alone, state lawmakers passed 57 restrictions aimed at curbing access to abortion — roughly 19.8 percent of the 288 abortion restrictions that have been passed in the United States since 2011.

For many women in North Dakota, the last two years were especially frightening as the most severe anti-abortion legislation seen so far in the United States passed into law, further complicating abortion access in a state where 73 percent of women live in counties that have no abortion clinics. In fact, North Dakota has only one clinic that provides safe and legal abortion services to women, the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo.

Nicknamed the "Heartbeat Law," North Dakota's HB 1456 became the United States' toughest abortion ban when it was signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in March 2013. Authored by State Rep. Bette Grande, the law banned abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which is can be as early as six weeks and in many cases would put the deadline at a time before a woman might even know she was pregnant.

President of the Center for Reproductive Rights Nancy Northup said the "Heartbeat Law" was "utterly cruel and unconstitutional" and "would have made North Dakota the first state since Roe v. Wade to effectively ban abortion."

The Red River Women's Clinic hailed the Supreme Court's refusal to hear North Dakota's appeal on Monday as a "victory for North Dakota women" on Twitter and celebrated an end to a two-year battle on their official Facebook, writing:

We can finally say goodbye to the 2013 Legislative session where ND Lawmakers passed bill after bill after bill, including the most extreme ban on abortion in the US. Thank you to the Center for Reproductive Rights for always having our back & ensuring that women in North Dakota have the same rights as women in other states! Celebration time!

Even with the Supreme Court's permanent block of the "Heartbeat Law," North Dakota remains one of the toughest states on abortion legislature. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of Dec. 1, 2015, legal restrictions on abortion in the state include rules dictating mandatory "state-directed counseling" with information designed to persuade women from having abortions and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period following such counseling. Abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization can only be provided in cases of life endangerment.

Private insurance policies, as well as those obtained through the Affordable Care Act, can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment unless the patient has purchased an optional rider at extra cost. Insurance policies provided by the state to public employees will only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment. No public funding in North Dakota is granted for abortion unless it is a case of life endangerment, rape, or incest.

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Still, in such a harrowing time for reproductive rights, any victory that guards women's health and right to choose what's best for her body and future is cause for celebration.