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North Dakota passes most restrictive abortion bills in nation

North Dakota’s Senate passed a pair of anti-abortion measures Friday that are considered to be the most restrictive in the nation, including one that would prevent women from having an abortion based on a genetic defect. 

The measures now to go to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple who has indicated he will sign them.

The new state laws are even more strict than one finalized last week in Arkansas that would make the procedure illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy. One North Dakota measure would prevent women from having abortions based on a genetic defect, like Down syndrome. The other would ban doctors from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected -- as early as five or six weeks. 

Republican state Rep. Bette Grande of Fargo sponsored both bills. Grande, a ninth-term legislator, is one of the more conservative lawmakers in the state. She’s pushed for controversial right-to-life issues and has been vocal about the issues.

Grande recently said she had relatives who had children born with genetic abnormalities and has been surprised at the discrimination she’s seen.

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

Bette has said she doesn’t understand why there is such an uproar over banning abortions in the fifth or sixth week. According to National Right to Life, a fetus’ heartbeat begins at the 22nd day.

“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?”

Not everyone agrees.

“I recognize that we don't all feel the same way about abortion, but we should be able to agree that this personal decision is best made by a woman and her family, not politicians,” Elissa Berger of the ACLU wrote in a statement Thursday. “First, in Arkansas, now in North Dakota, politicians seem to have completely lost sight of this.”

Battles over abortion in the United States have seen a shift from the federal courts to statehouses in recent years.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, states in 2011 passed a record-breaking 92 new abortion restrictions. In 2012, 43 were passed – the second highest number of abortion laws.

Last week, the Arkansas legislature passed a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, which some have called a bold challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. 

The Arkansas ban, which would make exceptions in cases of rape, incest and certain medical contingencies, is scheduled to go into effect 90 days after the current legislative session adjourns. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe had vetoed the measure, but the legislature overrode the veto Wednesday.

Abortion rights groups have vowed to challenge the laws in court.

An Ohio bill, similar to the North Dakota and Arkansas “heartbeat” bills, was debated and defeated last year in the state Senate. The measure, which could be revived this year, fractured Ohio’s anti-abortion movement in a debate over its tactical effectiveness.

In Oklahoma, a “personhood” bill has been introduced that would ban abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception.

“When you pass a law, the end goal is surviving in court,” said Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, told The Associated Press.  He predicted the Arkansas law would be struck down because it contradicted Supreme Court rulings allowing abortions prior to viability — the stage at about 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy when a fetus could survive outside the womb.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s save all the babies,’” Gonidakis, an attorney, said. “But you could pass 100 bills a day, and they’ll never go into effect and save one baby’s life.”