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#5 Battle over Iowa's 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban continues | The Gazette Top Stories 2018

Law is one of the most restrictive in nation

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 359, known as the fetal heartbeat bill, in May in her office at the Iowa Capitol. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 359, known as the fetal heartbeat bill, in May in her office at the Iowa Capitol. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
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The fetal “heartbeat” bill arguably was the most controversial piece of legislation passed by Iowa lawmakers in 2018, and the fight over its constitutionality continues.

The law bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks after pregnancy, making it one of the most restrictive abortion statutes in the nation. Senate File 359 was passed overnight by the GOP-controlled Legislature during the 2018 session. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law in May, and it was set to take effect July 1.

But the law immediately faced legal challenges, with reproductive health care providers Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Iowa City’s Emma Goldman Clinic filing a lawsuit claiming the law violates women’s due-process rights, their rights to liberty, safety and happiness, and their rights to equal protection under Iowa’s constitution.

A district judge in Polk County issued a temporary stay of the law soon after its signing. In early December, Judge Michael Huppert heard oral arguments from the health providers and the Thomas More Society, which is representing the state.

Huppert said he expects to take up to 60 days to decide whether to grant a summary judgment barring the law as unconstitutional or allowing the matter to go to trial.

The law would require physicians to test for a fetal heartbeat on any woman seeking an abortion. If detected, a physician could not perform an abortion. It has some exceptions, including if the woman was raped or the victim of incest and reports the crime to law enforcement within a certain period of time, or if the fetus has an abnormality that is incompatible with life.

Regardless how the district judge rules, representatives on the losing side expect the decision will be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

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Activists opposed to abortion rights hope the ensuing legal battle ultimately is a way to get the abortion issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, with the goal of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. However, this case is being argued under the Iowa constitution, not the U.S. Constitution, which means the federal government and U.S. Supreme Court have no jurisdiction.

In a separate case in June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled 5-2 to strike down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. That decision upheld a ban on abortions after 20 weeks except in the case of a medical emergency.

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