Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments over whether fetal heartbeat law should be allowed to go into effect

By Dave Andrusko

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

The headline in the rabidly Des Moines Register for yesterday’s hearing was “Will the Iowa Supreme Court allow a 6-week abortion ban? Lawyers make their case”.

At issue is a fetal heartbeat law that was passed in 2018 (but which never went into effect) that prohibited nearly all abortions after six weeks, the juncture at which the baby’s heartbeat can be detected. Since then “abortion laws in Iowa and nationwide have been shaken by a string of recent court decisions,” Katie Akin reported.

For example, last summer 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 Michael Hupper 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.

“Chris Schandevel, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney who argued the case on the state’s behalf, said the 2018 law should be reconsidered under the current interpretation of the state constitution, where abortion is no longer considered a fundamental right subject to the strictest legal scrutiny,” Akin reported.

“We know now, today, that even though this court and the U.S. Supreme Court had previously misinterpreted the federal constitution and the Iowa Constitution, that what the Legislature did in 2018 in enacting the fetal heartbeat law is perfectly consistent under both constitutions, because there is no fundamental right to abortion,” said Schandevel.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic “urged the court not to overturn the four-year-old injunction, citing procedural concerns with relitigating a law that was deemed unconstitutional when it first passed,” according to Akin.

In statement, Gov. Reynolds, who sat in the front row directly behind her lawyers, said “Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, decision-making power has been returned to the states.” She added, “Our citizens and their elected officials have chosen to promote life and end abortion at a heartbeat, with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”