Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of six-week abortion ban

Iowa’s Supreme Court on Friday said the state’s six-week ban on abortion is legal, the latest example of a state imposing severe restrictions since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago.

The 4-3 ruling overturned a lower court’s temporary block on the law and sent the case back to continue, allowing the ban to take effect.

Iowa’s law is an example of a “heartbeat statute,” which bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected — usually around six weeks, which is before many women know they are pregnant. 

There are some exceptions for rape and incest if reported to the police or health provider within a specific time period. Medical exceptions include a fetal abnormality that’s “incompatible with life” or if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life.

Abortion access stands to be a major issue in the 2024 election across the country, especially as Republican candidates have settled on a position that it’s a state issue.

The lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the Emma Goldman Clinic, and the ACLU of Iowa. They argued that the abortion ban was not constitutional under Iowa law. The lower court’s injunction kept abortion legal up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“We conclude that the fetal heartbeat statute is rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in protecting unborn life,” the majority wrote.

The ruling stated that “neither text nor history establishes abortion as a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.”

The state passed a nearly identical version of the law in 2018, but it was halted by a court because Roe v. Wade was still in effect.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) asked a district court to allow that law to take effect.

When the court declined, she appealed to the state Supreme Court, which deadlocked 3-3, leaving the 22-week limit in place.

Reynolds then called the GOP-led state legislature into a special session last summer for the sole purpose of passing the ban. That law was passed on party lines, but temporarily blocked days later.

“There is no right more sacred than life, and nothing more worthy of our strongest defense than the innocent unborn,” Reynolds said in a statement Friday. “I’m glad that the Iowa Supreme Court has upheld the will of the people of Iowa.”

She added that her administration “will continue to develop policies that encourage strong families, which includes promoting adoption and protecting in vitro fertilization (IVF).”

In a strong dissent, Chief Justice Susan Christensen said the majority’s ruling “strips Iowa women of their bodily autonomy” and “relies heavily on the male-dominated history and traditions of the 1800s, all the while ignoring how far women’s rights have come since the Civil War era.”

She added that the majority misunderstood the issue at the center of the case.

“It is not whether abortion, with the polarizing reactions it evokes, is a fundamental right but rather whether individuals have the fundamental right to make medical decisions affecting their health and bodily integrity in partnership with their healthcare provider free from government interference,” Christensen wrote.

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