BISMARCK, N.D. — A ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that overturned North Dakota's prohibition on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is unfortunate but expected, said the executive director of the state's Catholic conference.

"The current holdings of the U.S. Supreme Court make it difficult to protect human life before the vague and subjective 'viability' stage,'" said Christopher Dodson in an April 17 statement.

His remarks came a day after Daniel Hovland, a federal judge, struck down the 2013 law, which banned most abortions after six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat is first detected.

Hovland said the law was unconstitutional and cited the Supreme Court, which he stated "has unequivocally said no state may deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at a point prior to viability," when an unborn child could survive outside the womb, sometime between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.

He said the "controversy over a woman's right to choose an abortion will never end," calling the issue one of the "most divisive" in the country. He predicted the high court will eventually "weigh in" the issue but until then "this court is obligated to uphold existing Supreme Court precedent."

Dodson said in his statement that "no matter what reason abortion advocates conjure up, viability, unlike a heartbeat, tells us nothing about the humanity of the unborn child and should not be used to determine whether a child can live or die."

The head of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, the state's only abortion clinic, praised Hovland's decision and others like for "striking down these attempts to choke off access to safe and legal abortion services in the U.S." The Center for Reproductive Rights said in a statement that "women should not be forced to go to court, year after year in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights."

Dodson urged Catholics and others in North Dakota to push for passage of the Human Life Amendment in November. It is "the only way to stop this radical agenda to strike down North Dakota's common sense laws, " he said.

"The amendment was placed on the ballot by a bipartisan vote of the state Legislature to protect our existing common sense laws, provide a foundation for future laws based on North Dakota values, and stop judges from fabricating an unfettered right to abortion, he said.

The North Dakota Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the state's two dioceses, Bismarck, headed by Bishop David D. Kagan, and Fargo, headed by Bishop John T. Folda.