Iowa 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Law Blocked by Judge

The law that would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected in the fetus was ruled as "violative of both the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution," according to the court's filings.
by | January 23, 2019 AT 7:15 AM

By Michaela Ramm

Iowa's fetal heartbeat law is unconstitutional and will not go into effect, a Polk County District Court Judge ruled Tuesday.

The law that would ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected in the fetus was ruled as "violative of both the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution," according to the court's filings -- released on the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision Roe v. Wade.

In December, both sides indicated whoever loses likely would expect to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Judge Michael Huppert of the 5th Judicial District of Iowa granted a motion for summary judgment and ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic.

The organizations filed the suit against Gov. Kim Reynolds and the state of Iowa in May, claiming the law violated women's due-process rights, their rights to liberty, safety and happiness and their rights to equal protection under the state constitution.

"Today's ruling is a victory for every Iowan who has ever needed or will need a safe, legal abortion," said Dr. Jill Meadows, medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

The law would have required physicians to attempt to detect a fetal heartbeat on any woman seeking abortion services. Physicians could not have performed an abortion if a heartbeat was detected, which can occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

Exceptions to the law would have included cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality that is incompatible with life.

"I am incredibly disappointed in today's court ruling because I believe that if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then a beating heart indicates life," Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement Tuesday.

The Guttmacher Institute, a national reproductive health care policy and research organization, had described Iowa's ban as "the most extreme anti-abortion measure adopted" in the country in 2018. North Dakota was the only state that proposed a similar law back in 2013, but enforcement was immediately blocked by pending judicial review.

The fetal heartbeat law was passed in the 2018 Republican-controlled Legislative session and signed by Reynolds in May.

However, the law immediately faced legal challenges. Reproductive health care providers Planned Parenthood and Emma Goldman Clinic filed the lawsuit shortly after its signing and Huppert issued a temporary stay, preventing the new law from going into effect July 1.

The Thomas More Society, a faith-based law firm in Chicago, represented the state at no cost in this case.

Huppert heard oral arguments from both sides in December.

State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, who managed the bill when it was on the House floor, said she was disappointed, but "I can't say I'm surprised by the ruling."

The state's fetal heartbeat restriction was made law shortly before the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a less restrictive abortion rule that was passed by the 2017 Republican-majority legislature. A provision of the law, which was signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad, required women seeking abortion services at any stage of pregnancy to undergo a preliminary 72-hour waiting period.

That law also established a 20-week ban on procedures, which was not part of the legal decision and remains in effect.

"The District Court decision sends a strong message to Iowa women that their constitutional rights are important and their health care decisions should be made by them, not politicians," said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen, of Des Moines. "... The Governor and legislative Republicans should stop attacking women's health care. I want Iowa to be known as the safest place in the country to have a baby."

Iowa lawmakers, who returned to the state capital earlier this month, are likely to consider more abortion restrictions in the coming months. According to Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, a so-called personhood bill -- or a law that would ban abortion at the moment of conception -- is likely to come up in the Senate this year.

"I'm sure we'll see new legislation because my colleagues on the other side of the aisle won't be happy with this," Brown-Powers said.

State Republican leadership and social conservatives have been pushing abortion restrictions in recent years with the hope of challenging Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that solidified a woman's right to an abortion, before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I believe this bill will be a vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade," Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, said publicly in May.

"There's nothing hidden about the agenda. Today the pro-life movement won a battle, but the war rages on."

Gazette Des Moines bureau reporter James Q. Lynch and Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau report Erin Murphy contributed to this article.

(c)2019 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)