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North Dakota governor signs toughest anti-abortion package in US

North Dakota’s governor signed the nation’s strictest anti-abortion measures into law Tuesday, including one statute that would ban most abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple authorized three bills previously passed by state legislators, the most controversial of which prohibits abortion procedures once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen early in the first trimester.

The Republican governor also approved a measure that restricts abortions based on gender selection and genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome.

The measures may set the stage for a legal challenge from abortion-rights advocates who consider the prospective laws challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion up until a fetus is viable – typically at 22 to 24 weeks.

Dalrymple addressed the potential legal battle in a statement released after he signed off on the bills.

“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,” Dalrymple said in the statement.

Legislators in the state House endorsed three other anti-abortion measures last Friday that are pending Dalrymple's signature. Two of the three prospective laws would ban abortions after 20 weeks, except in medical emergencies, and require doctors performing abortion procedures to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

State House representatives also approved a ballot referendum that would let voters declare that life begins at conception. However, the referendum doesn't need Dalrymple's signature and will be part of the state's 2014 general election ballot.

The Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota's sole abortion provider, said state legislators' hospital provision "is clearly intended to regulate abortion out of existence in North Dakota."

"Admitting privileges are not easily come by under any circumstances, but more importantly, such a requirement gives hospitals the power to decide whether abortion is even available in the state," the clinic said in a statement.

Rep. Vernon Laning, a Republican from Bismarck, defended the hospital measure as a safeguard for women who have complications during their pregnancies.

"It ensures the physician is well-qualified to address the problem," Laning said on the House floor. "I certainly think a woman undergoing a procedure would want as many safety precautions as possible."

Rep. Kylie Oversen, a Democrat from Grand Forks, said House Republicans had taken a giant step toward making North Dakota the most dangerous state in the U.S. for pregnant women, NBC station KMOT of Minot reported.

"As a young woman who has not yet had the privilege of becoming a mother, I want to know that when I make a decision to do so, any already difficult decision that I must face with my physicians and my family will not be complicated by legal matters, by an overreach of state government," Oversen said.