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Gov. Reynolds calls Iowa legislators back for a special session to enact legislation “that addresses abortion and protects unborn lives”

by | Jul 10, 2023

By Dave Andrusko

Undeterred by a non-decision decision by the Iowa Supreme Court, pro-life Gov. Kim Reynolds said she was calling legislators back to the Iowa Capital on Tuesday for special session “with the sole purpose of enacting legislation that addresses abortion and protects unborn lives.” The tie vote means abortion in the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy remains legal in Iowa.

Gov. Reynolds was responding to the June 15 Iowa Supreme Court’s 3-3 deadlock regarding a lower court injunction against Iowa’s 2018 Fetal Heartbeat Law. The 2018 law was designed to protect unborn babies from abortion after the heartbeat has been detected. The evenly-divided decision by the Iowa Supreme Court allows a lower court injunction against the law to stand.

On the day the Iowa Supreme Court punted on the Heartbeat law, Gov. Reynold said “To say that today’s lack of action by the Iowa Supreme Court is a disappointment is an understatement. Not only does it disregard Iowa voters who elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of unborn children, but it has sided with a single judge in a single county who struck down Iowa’s legislation based on principles that now have been flat-out rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no fundamental right to abortion and any law restricting it should be reviewed on a rational basis standard – a fact acknowledged today by three of the justices.  Still, without an affirmative decision, there is no justice for the unborn.” 

Last Wednesday, when she announced the special session, Reynolds said, “I believe the pro-life movement is the most important human rights cause of our time. Not only will I continue to fight against the inhumanity of abortion, but I will also remain committed to supporting women in planning for motherhood, promoting fatherhood and parenting, and continuing policies that encourage strong families. These are the most essential building blocks of our society, and they are what will keep the foundation of our state and country strong for generations to come.” 

In an emailed statement, Speaker of the Iowa House Pat Grassley said, “While Democrats across the country continue to devalue the life of an unborn child, Iowa House Republicans are unapologetically pro-life. Iowans know we will defend life and have grown our majority.” Grassley added, “We believe strongly that the 2018 Heartbeat Law was a good piece of legislation that will save many innocent lives. It is past time for the will of Iowans to be heard and for the heartbeat bill with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother, to be the law of the land in Iowa.”


When Judge Celene Gogerty declined to reinstate the law, it left in place the 2019 injunction issued by Judge Michael Huppert. Last summer, however, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its 2018 ruling that there is a fundamental right to abortion under the Iowa Constitution. They did so one week before the United States Supreme Court, in Dobbs, overturned Roe v. Wade.

“With the door opened to reviving the ‘fetal heartbeat’ law, lawyers for Governor Reynolds filed a motion asking the trial court to lift the injunction, arguing that it has the authority to modify or vacate an injunction if there has been a substantial change in the facts or law,” according to Rox Laird of Courthouse News. In her seventeen page decision, Judge Gogerty, in essence, argued her hands were tied—that she does not have the authority to dissolve the permanent injunction placed on the law by Judge Huppert and allow the law to take effect.Reynolds promptly appealed that decision, sending the case to the Iowa Supreme Court where the justices heard the case for and against allowing the fetal heartbeat to go into effect.

But “The court’s 3-3 deadlock,” the Des Moines Register reported, “means the district court’s order is the final say on the matter, and the law will remain permanently blocked.” Justice Dana Oxley recused herself, which had always raised the possibility of a stalemate.

The newly introduced bill is similar but not identical to the 2018 law. It would prohibit most abortions after fetal heart activity is detected. “The bill creates exceptions for abortions necessary to save the life of the mother, for pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest, and for fetal abnormalities that are ‘incompatible with life,'” according to Katie Akin and Stephen Gruber-Miller of the Register. So what is the tentative schedule look like? According to Akin and Gruber-Miller 

“The House Health and Human Services Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill at 9:30 a.m. The hearing will last for 90 minutes. Supporters and opponents of the bill will alternate two-minute speeches.

“The Senate State Government Committee will consider an subcommittee and committee must conclude by 2 p.m., according to a drafted Senate Resolution.”

Categories: State Legislation