In 2013, the state's legislature had passed a general ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, around six weeks of gestation. Under the law, a physician would have to determine there is no fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion.
A district court ruled the law unconstitutional and the Eighth Circuit Court upheld that ruling in July.
"Having a heartbeat is a universal sign of life, and all human beings with heartbeats should have legal protection," North Dakota Right to Life stated. "This is especially disconcerting on the anniversary of the mistakes of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton." Those decisions on January 22, 1973 recognized a woman's legal right to have an abortion.
At issue is the point in a pregnancy when a fetus is determined to be viable. The state referred to the opinion of an obstetrician who concluded viability at a fetal heartbeat, around six weeks. The plaintiffs in the suit quoted two medical experts who claimed a fetus is viable much later, around 24 weeks.
The Eighth Circuit had cited previous Supreme Court precedent in Roe and in Planned Parenthood v. Casey to conclude that it could not overturn the district court's decision.
According to the decision, the Court had previously ruled that the viability of a baby is the point at which it can survive outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial support; the North Dakota law had conflicted with that ruling because it determined viability at a much earlier stage. Thus, it was a violation of a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion before viability.