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Iowa Supreme Court justices upholds Heartbeat Law

by | Jun 28, 2024

By Dave Andrusko

Iowa Supreme Court
Photo: Ctjf83
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

A little more than two months after hearing oral arguments, the Iowa Supreme Court this morning dissolved an injunction blocking enforcement of Iowa’s fetal heartbeat abortion law.

“The law bans most abortions after fetal activity can be detected — about six weeks, with exceptions for incest or to save the life of the mother,” William Morris reported for the Des Moines Register.

“The decision means the injunction blocking the law is lifted and the case will be sent back to the district court, where McDermott writes that ‘Planned Parenthood cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits’ of its challenge to the law under the new legal standard.”

The majority decision was written by Justice Matthew McDermott, joined by Justices Dana Oxley, David May and Christopher McDonald. It held that laws restricting abortion are only unconstitutional if the state cannot show a “rational basis” for the law.

Justice Matthew McDermott said they hold that abortion is not a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.

“A right to an abortion, as the historical record shows, is not rooted at all in our state’s history and tradition, let alone ‘deeply” rooted.

 

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

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

In July 2023, 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. It was this injunction that the Court overturned.

The decision was especially sweet for pro-life Gov. Kim Reynolds. Reynolds brought the legislature into a special session last July, and it passed the bill to protect the unborn which she called “the will of the people.”

Reynolds and Republican leaders hailed the decision. Reynolds said

“There is no right more sacred than life, and nothing more worthy of our strongest defense than the innocent unborn. Iowa voters have spoken clearly through their elected representatives, both in 2018 when the original heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, and again in 2023 when it passed by an even larger margin. I’m glad that the Iowa Supreme Court has upheld the will of the people of Iowa.” 

She added

As the heartbeat bill finally becomes law, we are deeply committed to supporting women in planning for motherhood, and promoting fatherhood and its importance in parenting. We will continue to develop policies that encourage strong families, which includes promoting adoption and protecting in vitro fertilization (IVF). Families are the cornerstone of society, and it’s what will keep the foundation of our state and country strong for generations to come.” 

 

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said

 

“Today’s decision marks a step in the right direction for the protection of life. While litigation continues, I appreciate the clarity the Supreme Court has provided on this issue. I am optimistic the common-sense law passed again last year to protect life at the sound of a heartbeat with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother will be found constitutional.” 

 

House Speaker Pat Grassley added

 

“This ruling is a victory in the fight to protect unborn children in Iowa.  The Legislature is elected by the people, and for too long, the courts have stood in the way of Iowans having their voices heard on this matter.  

 

“We are a pro-life and pro-family state. In Iowa, we respect both the life of the unborn child and the life of the mother. While out-of-touch, far-left political groups fight for abortion up until the day of birth, we will continue to fight for common sense policies that promote and protect life.  

 

“We will continue to promote strong families in all that we do in the Iowa House. We must build on the work we’ve already done to expand access to affordable child care, extend postpartum coverage on Medicaid, and improve our foster care and adoption systems.” 

Background

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.

Today all that patience and determination paid rich dividends.

Categories: Judicial