(Chicago, USA) - The state of North Dakota approved the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, a move that challenges federal protection of a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.
Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple signed a bill that bans any abortion after a fetal heart beat can be detected, typically around six weeks after conception when many women still don't realize they are pregnant.
There are no exceptions for rape, incest, the health of the mother or if she would lose the pregnancy anyway as a result of a fetal abnormality.
In the latest volley in the bitter US "culture war," Dalrymple also signed two bills which ban abortion because of genetic defects or for the purpose of gender selection, and would require doctors at the state's only abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
North Dakota's Republican-dominated state legislature passed a law Friday that asks voters to amend the state constitution to define life as beginning at conception.
If ratified in a November 2014 election, the amendment would grant full legal protection to embryos and fetuses and could outlaw some forms of birth control, stem cell research and possibly in vitro fertilization.
The laws will undoubtedly prompt legal challenges -- but their supporters welcome any chance this gives them to overturn the US Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973.
Dalrymple ordered the legislature to allocate funds to fight any legal challenges and expressed hope he may prevail with the fetal heartbeat bill.
"Although the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question, this bill is nevertheless a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," he said.
"Because the US Supreme Court has allowed state restrictions on the performing of abortions and because the Supreme Court has never considered this precise restriction ... the constitutionality of this measure is an open question."
Pro-choice advocates insist the legislation will be overturned in court.
"This sweeping package of bills will not stand up to constitutional scrutiny," said Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
"But as a result of North Dakota's leaders' disregard for women's health, the state will endure months and years of drawn-out litigation costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars," she warned.
The Supreme Court refused to review the Roe decision at the end of October, turning away a petition on an amendment to Oklahoma's state constitution that would have granted "personhood" to embryos.
Other cases dealing with abortion are expected to come before the court in the coming months as more states pass laws that place greater restrictions on the procedure.
Some 20 states have laws on the books to ban or heavily restrict abortion should the Supreme Court overturn Roe versus Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Meanwhile, 41 of the nation's 50 states have some type of gestational limit on when an abortion can be performed.
Most limit abortions after viability: the point where the fetus would be able to survive outside the womb. Others limit abortions after 20 to 24 weeks and the bulk allow for exceptions if a woman's life is threatened by the pregnancy.