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Iowa Supreme Court justices consider arguments on Heartbeat Law

by | Apr 12, 2024

By Dave Andrusko

On Thursday morning, Iowa’s Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the temporary injunction against the state’s 2023 Heartbeat Law should be lifted.

It was the latest round in a battle that goes back years.

Pro-life Gov. Kim Reynolds brought the legislature into a special session last summer, and it passed the bill to protect the unborn after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—about six-weeks–which she called “the will of the people.”

In July, after being in effect for just a little over two days, Polk County District Judge Joseph Seidlin agreed with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the Emma Goldman Clinic, and the ACLU of Iowa that the law was  likely unconstitutional according to Iowa Supreme Court precedent. The state in turn appealed, and Thursday the justices heard nearly an hour of arguments from both sides.

Background

Much of the discussion yesterday centered around what the justices meant in their previous rulings on abortion. William Morris, reporting for the Des Moines Register, wrote

The justices ruled in 2022 that Iowa’s constitution does not protect a “fundamental right” to an abortion, reversing its 2018 decision.

 

That meant abortion laws were no longer held to the standard of “strict scrutiny” to determine if they were constitutional. But the court declined to rule on what the standard should be, leaving in place the “undue burden” standard from a 2017 case.

 

A week after the 2022 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, similarly ending constitutional protections on the federal level.

 

In response, Gov. Kim Reynolds sought to revive the state’s long-blocked ban on abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

 

Lower courts declined to lift the stay, and Reynolds appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. But in 2023, the high court deadlocked 3-3, leaving the law banned.

Gov. Reynolds and the Legislature responded by passing an updated Fetal Heartbeat law. This law was again blocked and once again appealed, bringing us to yesterday’s oral arguments.

Meanwhile, “This week, Iowa lawmakers approved the rules to enforce the ban, to take effect April 24,”  according to Alexandra Miller and Mimi Mees [Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments on 6-week abortion ban].00:00

According to Morris, the court’s 2022 decision “revolved around the due process clause of Iowa’s constitution and found that clause does not protect abortion.”

While Solicitor General Eric Wessan told the justices that the court should hold that the state can “restrict abortion access so long as it can articulate a ‘rational basis,’” attorney Peter Im, for Planned Parenthood, countered that despite the 2022 decision finding abortion is not a “fundamental right” in Iowa, “there are other places in the constitution where the court could also find support for an intermediate standard, such as the undue burden test,” Morris wrote.

“Autonomy and dominion over one’s own body, that runs through the Iowa Constitution,” he said. “It is fundamental.”

 

Wessan, though, said past precedent is clear: if something isn’t a fundamental right, then the only standard for courts to use to evaluate restrictions is rational basis review.

 

“This court has never before recognized a quasi-fundamental or fundamental-ish right,” he said, calling it “a binary question.”

A decision is expected by the end of June.

Categories: State Legislation