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March 15, 2013

North Dakota close to banning abortions at six weeks

BISMARCK, N.D. —  

North Dakota on Friday moved one step closer to adopting what would be the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, with lawmakers sending the Republican governor measures that could set the state up for a costly legal battle over the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure.

The North Dakota Senate approved two anti-abortion bills Friday, one banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and another prohibiting the procedure because of genetic defects such as Down syndrome. If the governor signs the measures, North Dakota would be the only state in the U.S. with those laws.

Supporters said their goal is to challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until a fetus is considered viable, usually at 22 to 24 weeks, though anti-abortion activists elsewhere have expressed concern about the strategy.

"It's a good day for babies," said Rep. Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo who introduced both bills. The state's only abortion clinic is in Fargo, and abortion-rights advocates say the measures are meant to shut it down.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple hasn't said anything to indicate he won't approve the measures.

Debate Friday was brief, with the Senate taking about an hour to pass both measures. No one spoke against the so-called fetal heartbeat bill, which the Senate took up immediately after passing the genetic abnormalities bill.

Opponents, who have promised legal challenges to both measures if they become law, urged Dalrymple to veto the bills. North Dakota is one of several states with Republican-controlled Legislatures and GOP governors that is looking at abortion restrictions. But the state is better positioned than most for a long court fight: It has budget surplus nearing $2 billion thanks to new-found oil wealth.

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