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15 Mar, 2013 22:55

North Dakota passes bill banning abortions in cases of genetic defect

North Dakota passes bill banning abortions in cases of genetic defect

The US state of North Dakota has passed a measure which would make it the first state to criminalize the termination of a pregnancy due to genetic defects. If made law, abortions will also be illegal in North Dakota after even six weeks of pregnancy.

The measure would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected – something that can happen as early as a month and a half into a pregnancy. 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. The women having the abortion, however, would not face charges.

Abortions based on sex selection would also be banned under the measure. Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Oklahoma already have such laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws throughout the country.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Representative Bette Grande, who says abortions based on gender or genetic abnormalities have “no place in civilized society.” She added that sex-selection abortions usually target female fetuses because of the preference for boys.

Grande says she has a relative with children born with genetic abnormalities, and has been surprised by the discrimination she has seen.

“It takes you back to Hitler, and we know where that went,” she said in a statement. “He started going after those with abnormalities, and I think it’s an absurdity we would go back to that kind of thing."

A spokesperson for the Guttmacher Institute told AP that the bill was the latest in a “tidal wave of abortion restrictions” in the US.

“We have seen efforts to ban abortion entirely and those attempts have failed. Now they’re moving toward banning abortions as early as possible,” Elizabeth Nash said.

 People protest on January 22, 2013 in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington,DC. Thousands of pro-life activists descended on the US capital Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of a landmark US Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing abortion rights under the Constitution (AFP Photo / Fabienne Faur)

Pro-choice activists say the measures are an attempt to close the state’s only women's health clinic performing abortions, in Fargo, and that the state should expect a legal battle if the bill is made into a law.

“Whether this is challenged in court is entirely up to the abortion industry," Grande said, referring to a disputed right-wing talking point painting abortions as a profitable venture. "Given the lucrative nature of abortion, it is likely that any statute that reduces the number of customers will be challenged by the industry," she told lawmakers.

Pro-choicers say the so-called 'fetal heartbeat bill' is a direct challenge to the US Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion until a fetus was considered viable – usually at 22 to 24 weeks. 

But Grande disagrees. “Why would a heartbeat not be considered life?” she said. “It makes so much sense; we all relate life to a heartbeat, and here we have a heartbeat, so isn’t it life?” she said.