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North Dakota governor signs near-total abortion ban

North Dakota became the latest state to enact a near-total ban on abortion on Monday, just a month after the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked a similar ban from going into effect.

Under the new law, abortions for rape or incest will only be permitted during the first six weeks of pregnancy, a time when most women are unaware they are pregnant. Abortions without pregnancy restrictions are permitted if termination of the pregnancy “prevents death or serious health risks to the mother.”

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill into law on Monday.

The law “reaffirms that North Dakota is an anti-abortion state,” Mr. Burgum said. It also “clarifies and refines” existing state bans blocked by the courts, the governor added.

The new law, effective immediately, is a sea change for the state, where abortion is legal until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Providers who perform abortions to save the mother’s life could face felony prosecution under the earlier ban. Providers are required to provide an “affirmative defense” that the abortion is medically necessary within the bounds of state law.

Under the new version of the law, exceptions do not require an affirmative defense from the provider. But suppliers could still face criminal charges if they violate exceptions provided by the law.

Experts say the law makes North Dakota at least the 14th state to have an effective ban on nearly all abortions, though it could face legal challenges.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion last year, conservative states have rushed to impose restrictions or outright bans. Liberal states have gone the other way, reaffirming abortion rights in state constitutions and appealing to women who seek abortions in states with bans.

North Dakota’s trigger ban was struck down by a district judge last year because of a violation lawsuit filed by its sole abortion provider, Red River Women’s Clinic.

The state Supreme Court last month upheld the lower court’s ruling and said the state constitution protects the right to abortion under certain circumstances.

“North Dakota lawmakers are trying to bypass the state constitution and the court system with this sweeping ban,” said Elizabeth Smith, state director of policy and advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Red River clinic. “They’ve loosened the exception a little bit, but they’re essentially trying to repackage the trigger ban.”

Ms Smith said the center was still analyzing the new law and had not “determined what the next steps would be”.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Clinic, called the new law an “assault on bodily autonomy and abortion rights.”

“This legislation is at odds with the people of North Dakota,” Ms. Kromenak said.

In August, the Red River Women’s Clinic stopped offering abortions in the state and instead made the short drive across the border to Moorhead, Minnesota. But lawyers representing the clinic said it was important to ensure the ban would not go into effect so patients facing medical emergencies could get abortions at hospitals and doctors.

“North Dakota was anti-abortion before statehood and before Roe,” said Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal, the bill’s sponsor. “I’m passionate about protecting women, and I’m passionate about protecting their unborn children, and the two go hand in hand.”

Most states with sweeping abortion restrictions offer some exceptions to save a mother’s life, but translating those exceptions has created confusion and unrest among doctors and patients. In the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, there have been few exceptions to these new abortion bans, a New York Times review of available state data and interviews with dozens of doctors, advocates and lawmakers showed.

In an opinion last month, the North Dakota Supreme Court expressed concern that a blanket abortion ban could violate “the fundamental right to abortion in limited circumstances that save life and health.”

Amy Schoenfeld Walker Contribution report.

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