By Dave Andrusko
As she promised, pro-life Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday asked the Iowa Supreme Court to lift the temporary injunction blocking the state from enforcing the 2023 Heartbeat Law. After being in effect for a just 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 and issued a temporary injunction.
Because of Judge Seidlin’s ruling, abortion continues to be legal up until to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Heartbeat Law was designed to protect unborn babies from abortion after the heartbeat has been detected, typically around the sixth week. The bill includes very limited exceptions: to preserve the life of the mother and for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Gov. Reynolds quickly fired off a response:
“Judge Seidlin stated this week that the Iowa Supreme Court left off last month with an ‘invitation to litigate’ further the standard of review on abortion regulations. Invitation or not, I will never stop fighting to protect our unborn children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators.”
Gov. Reynolds was alluding to a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in a different abortion case. Des Moines Register reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller explained that last year, in a different case, the state’s highest court
ruled that there is not a fundamental constitutional right to abortion in Iowa, overturning a prior decision. One week later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the nationwide right to abortion.
But the court also
declined to say what standard Iowa courts should use to evaluate abortion restrictions in the future. Instead, it left in place an “undue burden” standard for abortion restrictions, meaning any law that imposes a substantial obstacle for someone seeking an abortion should be struck down.
The state’s lawyers say courts should instead use “rational basis,” the most permissive standard of review, to consider whether Iowa’s abortion laws are constitutional. That’s the standard the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed in the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe.
Judge Seidlin pointed out that “when the undue burden standard is applied, it is readily apparent that the petitioners are likely to succeed on their claim” that the new law violates the Iowa Constitution.
Attorney General Brenna Bird also issued a statement saying “the right to life is the most fundamental right of all.”
“Today, we are taking our defense of Iowa’s Heartbeat Law to the Iowa Supreme Court to allow the law to go back in effect and protect innocent lives,” Bird said. “I’m confident that the law is on our side, and we will continue fighting for the right to life in court.”
Judge Seidlin allowed the Iowa Board of Medicine to go forward with writing administrative rules to govern the law’s implementation.
“Doctors and critics of the law have raised concerns that without rules, it’s unclear whether doctors could face penalties for providing abortions, and how women could verify that they qualify for the law’s exceptions,” Gruber-Miller continued.
Seidlin wrote, “Should the injunction entered today ultimately be dissolved, it would only benefit all involved, patients and providers alike, to have rules in place to administer the law.”
Reynolds signed a nearly identical law in 2018, and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa challenged it in court.
Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert ruled in 2019 that the law violated the Iowa Constitution, striking it down permanently. He cited a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision that declared women had a “fundamental right” to abortion under the state constitution.
However, with the 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe, lawyers for the state asked the district court to dissolve the injunction. “The court rejected that proposal, which led to an appeal that went before the Iowa Supreme Court, where the justices deadlocked on a decision and left the injunction in place,” according to Clark Kauffman of Capital Dispatch.
“That decision prompted Reynolds to call a special session of the Iowa Legislature earlier this month, during which lawmakers passed a virtually identical bill, triggering an immediate legal challenge by Planned Parenthood North Central States, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the ACLU of Iowa.”