Update: On June 1, Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the new abortion law at the conclusion of the first hearing on the lawsuit. Attorneys representing the state did not object to the injunction.
A court challenge to Iowa’s new law banning most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected had been expected since Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she’d sign the bill that Republicans pushed through legislature. On Tuesday, the ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH) and Iowa City’s Emma Goldman Clinic filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court seeking to overturn the law and asking for an injunction to prevent it from going into effect. Dr. Jill Meadows, medical director of PPH, is also a co-plaintiff in the case.
“We are challenging this law on behalf of our patients and all Iowans,” Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of PPH, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The citizens of our state overwhelmingly reject attempts to restrict an individual’s rights and ability to control their own destiny. So today we fight.”
Almost all abortions in Iowa will become illegal if the law goes into effect as scheduled on July 1. A fetal heartbeat typically become detectable at six weeks, before many women suspect they are pregnant. The bill does provide an exemption if the mother’s life is threatened, but not one to preserve the health of the mother. The Iowa House of Representatives added exemptions for rape and incest, but those exemptions are narrow and require a victim to report incidents to one of a specified list of authorities within a set time period. The only other exemption involves very narrow circumstances in which a fetus is unlikely to survive.
Republicans in the Iowa legislature, who passed the abortion bill on a series of party-line votes, understood it would be challenged in court, and welcomed any challenge as a way of advancing policies at a national level.
“This law, if signed, I believe could very well be the very bill that overturns Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, during a debate in the Iowa Senate. Chapman and others hope U.S. Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents from Reagan to Trump will ignore 45 years of legal precedents and find the U.S. Constitution does not protect a woman’s reproductive choices.
But Tuesday’s lawsuit was filed in state court, not federal court. It argues the new law violates the Iowa Constitution. In June 2015, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that “the Iowa Constitution protects a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy to the same extent as the United States Constitution.”
“In the 45 years since Roe, no federal or state court has upheld such a dangerous law,” Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director, said in a statement.
As of 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, Gov. Reynolds has yet to issue a statement in response to the lawsuit. Last week, she said when referring to the new law, “I have had very positive feedback.”