DES MOINES — Abortion opponents grudgingly accepted a legal strategy Friday to allow a temporary injunction halting the July 1 implementation of Iowa’s controversial “fetal heartbeat” law.
“The heartbeat law will save babies’ lives when enforced, and while it’s delayed, those babies will tragically die. That’s horrible,” according to a statement issued by the Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders, which backed Senate File 359. “But the process gave pro-life attorneys too little time to build their best case, and we’re not going to play into that game. Babies’ lives are too precious to put up a rushed legal defense.”
Polk County District Judge Michael D. Huppert agreed to accept the mutually agreed-upon stipulation by attorneys on both sides and ordered the temporary stay on the law’s effective date.
The law’s constitutionality is being challenged in a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Dr. Jill Meadows and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic against Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Board of Medicine.
“For the sake of getting to a resolution on the merits sooner and better, we have agreed to essentially allow the bill to be put on hold while this court resolves the case on its merits,” said Martin Cannon, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a faith-based Chicago legal organization that is representing the state’s position at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.
Alice Clapman, an attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the judge during a two-minute hearing Friday in Polk County District Court that her clients were willing to move forward with the temporary stay.
“We were looking forward to making our arguments for the plaintiffs and for women in Iowa and we were ready to go, but we are very pleased that the state agreed to keep this law from going into effect while we litigate the case because that protects women during that time,” said co-counsel Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director who is representing the plaintiffs.
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The law, passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed May 4 by Reynolds, would require doctors to conduct an abdominal ultrasound to test for a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected — usually about six weeks into a pregnancy — a physician could not perform an abortion except in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality.
The statute does not specify criminal or civil penalties for those breaking the law, but critics argue it was poorly written with vague language creating uncertainty for doctors making medical decisions for their patients.
“Gov. Reynolds and other Iowa Republican politicians sent a horrible message to everyone in the United States when they passed this unconstitutional law,” said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who called Friday’s development “good news” for Iowa families.
“This dangerous law devalues women and girls and would further reduce access to quality, affordable health care across our state,” she said.
Advocates of what is considered to be the most restrictive abortion law in the country said they expected the legislation would trigger an ensuing legal battle that ultimately could be 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.
Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader organization sent an email to his group’s members urging them to “be praying all the harder” for American judges to “recognize the preciousness of life in the womb” and uphold Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” law.
He said the “temporary roadblock” was expected and that “babies’ lives are just too precious to put up a rushed legal defense.”
Last month, the Iowa Executive Council approved letting Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office contract with attorneys from the Thomas More Society to represent the state’s position at no cost to taxpayers after Miller, a Democrat, indicated his office would disqualify itself and not defend the law if a legal challenge was filed.
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