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Rivals prepare to go head to head over abortion bans

Abortion-rights activists plan to challenge laws in Arkansas and North Dakota. The Arkansas law bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, while the North Dakota measure bans them after six weeks. 

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Kris Kitko leads chants of protest at an abortion-rights rally at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. March 25. Rival legal teams, each well-financed and highly motivated, are girding for high-stakes court battles over the coming months on laws enacted in Arkansas and North Dakota that would impose the nation's toughest bans on abortion.

James MacPherson/AP/File

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Rival legal teams, well-financed and highly motivated, are girding for court battles over the coming months on laws enacted in Arkansas and North Dakota that would impose the nation's toughest bans on abortion.

For all their differences, attorneys for the two states and the abortion-rights supporters opposing them agree on this: The laws represent an unprecedented frontal assault on the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.

The Arkansas law, approved March 6 when legislators overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, would ban most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward. On March 26, North Dakota went further, with Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signing a measure that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected and before some women even know they're pregnant.

Abortion-rights advocates plan to challenge both measures, contending they are unconstitutional violations of the Roe ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.

"I think they're going to be blocked immediately by the courts — they are so far outside the clear bounds of what the Supreme Court has said for 40 years," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The center will be leading the North Dakota legal challenge and working in Arkansas alongside the American Civil Liberties Union's state and national offices. Both Northup and ACLU lawyers say they have ample resources to wage the battles, and they expect victories that would require their attorneys' fees to be paid by two states.

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