Lawsuit filed to block Iowa abortion restrictions

The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit to challenge Iowa's newly passed abortion restrictions.
Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 11:24 AM CDT
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DES MOINES Iowa (KCRG) - Hours after Republicans in the Iowa legislature passed new abortion restrictions, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa has filed a lawsuit to block those restrictions from taking effect.

The so-called “Fetal Heartbeat bill” would ban abortions in Iowa once cardiac activity is detected, which typically occurs around 6-weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. The bill includes exemptions for medical emergencies, rape and incest, or if the fetus is deemed not viable. The lawsuit filed Wednesday says that would “ban the vast majority of abortions in Iowa.”

“By banning the vast majority of abortions in Iowa, the Act unlawfully violates the rights of Petitioners, their medical providers and other staff, and their patients under the Iowa Constitution and would severely jeopardize their health, safety, and welfare,” the lawsuit states.

Iowa Republicans passed the restrictions in a one-day special session Tuesday and Governor Kim Reynolds has promised to sign it Friday, putting it into effect immediately.

The law is nearly identical to a law the Iowa Supreme Court struck down in 2019 as unconstitutional. The Iowa Supreme Court declined to reverse that decision last month in the wake of rulings overturning constitutional protections to abortion in both the Iowa and U.S. Supreme Courts.

The lawsuit mostly hinges on the “undue burden” test, basically whether the law creates a hardship for someone seeking an abortion that is not outweighed by the interests of the government. The lawsuit argues that the state admitted the 2018 law did not pass the undue burden test while arguing to overturn the injunction last year.

The lawsuit then goes on to highlight the burden placed on women wanting to get an abortion. That includes the fact that many women do not know they are pregnant before cardiac activity is detected. It also argues ambiguities in the bill make it difficult for doctors and patients to know what is legal, such as not defining incest or rape (which is not a defined crime in Iowa, it is generally included as a form of the crime of sexual abuse or sexual assault). It argues the law would force Iowans to leave the state to seek medical care for an abortion, placing a financial restraint on who is able to access that care.

After the bill passed last night, Governor Reynolds issued a statement that referenced the legal challenges facing previous abortion restrictions.

“The Iowa Supreme Court questioned whether this legislature would pass the same law they did in 2018, and today they have a clear answer,” Gov. Reynolds wrote. The voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer, and justice for the unborn should not be delayed.”

Legal experts have said any abortion law in Iowa would face a more difficult time striking down new abortion restrictions because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling last year, which struck down protections for constitutional protections for the right to an abortion.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is the lead plaintiff in the case, along with the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, which is one of the few abortion providers in Iowa, and a Dr. Sarah Traxler, a board-certified OB-GYN who is the medical director for the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.