North Dakota lawmakers on Friday approved two anti-abortion bills, including one that would ban most abortions after six weeks -- when a fetal heartbeat can be first detected.
If signed by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, it will be one of the most restrictive such laws in the country.
Opponents have vowed to mount a legal challenge should it become the law of North Dakota, while proponents say it is does not outright eliminate abortions.
"A woman's right to choose has not been found to be absolute, this is a matter of looking at the principles and how they weigh against each other," said Republican state Sen. Spencer Berry, who voted in favor of both bills. "With home pregnancy testing, many women discover they are pregnant very early on."
The ACLU called on Dalrymple to veto the bill.
"We urge the governor to veto this dangerous ban and to take this complex and deeply personal decision out of the hands of politicians, and put it back in the hands of a woman, her family and her doctor where it belongs," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"...In America, no woman, no matter where she lives, should be denied the ability to make this deeply personal decision."
While the bill does not spell out a specific time frame when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, experts say it is typically at about six to seven weeks into a pregnancy.
The bill targets doctors rather women having an abortion, making it punishable up to a maximum of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Doctors, if convicted, could also lose their license to practice medicine.
It also says a woman who undergoes an abortion where a fetal heartbeat has been detected may not be prosecuted for violating the law or conspiracy to violate the law.
The bill does not rule out abortions when a medical emergency threatens the life of a woman.
It does not, however, allow for an abortion in the case of rape or incest, said Democratic state Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, who voted against the bill.
"It was a very harsh anti-abortion bill basically saying no abortions under any circumstances except in the health of mother. I think that's very harsh and this one I could not vote for that," he said.
The bill, if it becomes law, also is likely to set up a U.S. Supreme Court challenge.
Abortion was legalized in all 50 states in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Statutory time limits on when abortions can take place, however, vary from state to state. Some states have no time limit, while others allow abortion up to the end of the second trimester, about 27 or 28 weeks into the pregnancy.
The other bill approved by the North Dakota legislature prohibits the procedure on the basis of genetic defects or gender selection. There are similar laws in other states.
This month, Arkansas' legislature passed a bill banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The state's Democrat governor, Mike Beebe, vetoed the bill, but the Arkansas House voted to override the veto.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU have vowed to challenge the law in federal court.
Called the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, the bill requires testing to determine "whether the fetus that the pregnant woman is carrying possesses a detectible heartbeat."