A U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a women's clinic's challenge of North Dakota's "heartbeat law," which prevents women from obtaining an abortion if a doctor could detect the child's heartbeat.

In a 14-page decision, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees the U.S. District Court of North Dakota, affirmed Judge Daniel Hovland's ruling striking down North Dakota's abortion law, which makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion under those circumstances, though an exception was made if the procedure was done to save the life of the mother.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the bill, HB1456, into law in March 2013.

That year, Bismarck attorney Thomas Dickson challenged the law in federal court on behalf of the Fargo-based Red River Women's Clinic, North Dakota's only abortion provider.

"The controlling case law is pretty clear. A woman's right to choose is still a constitutional right in the United States," said Dickson, adding that the ruling was not unexpected.

Hovland granted Dickson a preliminary injunction against the law in 2013 and, in 2014, he made that decision permanent.

Whether North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem will challenge the ruling has not yet been determined. He said Wednesday that his office is reviewing the opinion.

"Once the review is complete, we will make a determination of what further action, if any, is advisable," Stenehjem said.

Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, introduced HB1456 and reflected on the decision Wednesday.

"I thought it was a good bill, but it's unfortunate they took it down. We'll just have to work with what we have, I guess," he said.

Dalrymple was traveling in West Virginia on Wednesday and did not return a Tribune call for comment by deadline.

For Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic, the decision was not only welcome, but timely.

"We're celebrating our 17th anniversary next week," said Kromenaker, adding that the court's decision would allow her clinic to continue helping women in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

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(Reach Andrew Sheeler at 701-250-8225 or andrew.sheeler@bismarcktribune.com.)