116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Abortions would be illegal in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — at six weeks, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant — under a pair of requests Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she plans to submit to Iowa courts.
The Republican governor announced that, in the wake of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and repealed a woman’s right to have an abortion under the federal constitution, she will ask the Iowa Supreme Court to rehear a recent case on abortion regulations so the state court can establish what legal standards can be applied to abortion restrictions in Iowa.
And Reynolds said she will ask the state courts to lift an injunction on the so-called “fetal heartbeat” law that was passed in 2018 but immediately stopped by the courts.
The legal landscape for abortion regulations has been rewritten over the past two weeks in Iowa and across the country.
On June 17, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned its own 2018 decision that had declared the right to an abortion was protected by the Iowa Constitution.
Exactly one week later, on June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 decision that had made abortion access a federal right.
Those rulings cleared the way for Iowa Republicans to enact stronger abortion restrictions in the state.
“Now is the time for us to stand up and continue the fight to protect the unborn,” Reynolds said in a statement. “The (U.S.) Supreme Court’s historic decision reaffirms that states have the right to protect the innocent and defenseless unborn — and now it’s time for our state to do just that. As governor, I will do whatever it takes to defend the most important freedom there is: the right to life.”
For now, abortion remains legal in Iowa until 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, announced he will not be involved with the state’s request to the courts, citing his support for the legal rationale that the U.S. Supreme Court applied to Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which reaffirmed Roe.
Miller also recused himself from arguing the state’s defense of the 2018 fetal heartbeat law that Reynolds is now asking the courts to allow to be enforced.
“In that case, I stated that I could not zealously assert the state’s position because of my core belief that the statute, if upheld, would undermine rights and protections for women,” Miller said in a statement. “In my nearly 40 years in office, I have declined to represent the state in only one other similar situation. I do not take lightly my responsibility to represent the state.”
Reynolds said the state will instead be represented by Alan Ostergren, a conservative lawyer and president and chief counsel of the Kirkwood Institute, a think tank. Reynolds’ office said Ostergren will be retained “at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.”
The top Republican leaders in the Iowa Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver from Ankeny and House Speaker Pat Grassley from New Hartford, added statements of support for Reynolds’ requests to the court.
“In 2018 the heartbeat bill created significant momentum across the country for conservative states to initiate legislation to protect the unborn. One of those state laws led to the historic Dobbs (v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, opening the path for the 2018 law to be implemented in Iowa,” Whitver said in a statement. “I support the decision to put these laws back in front of the Court to protect life in Iowa.”
Zach Wahls, leader of the Iowa Senate Democrats from Coralville, in a statement warned that Republicans’ actions will be dangerous to the health of Iowa women.
“Iowa Republicans will not stop until they have completely banned abortion without exception. This is an incredibly dangerous action that threatens the health, safety, and future of Iowa women,” Wahls said.
Reynolds’ request to rehear Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds is designed to get the Iowa Supreme Court to rule what standard, if any, should be applied to abortion regulations under the Iowa Constitution. In its momentous June 17 ruling, the state court failed to establish such standards, citing a desire to first wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs.
The Iowa Supreme Court in its June 17 ruling said the “undue burden” standard that was the previous standard would remain in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, which came a week later.
Reynolds noted the undue burden standard was used by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2015 when it struck down a law banning telemedicine abortion services.
“Thus, while the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision was a step in the right direction, it left more work to be done in Iowa’s courts to fully protect the life of the unborn, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs that states have an important interest in doing,” Reynolds said in a news release. “Gov. Reynolds fully intends to do that work.”
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