Iowa District Court Upholds Abortion Rights, But Gov. Reynolds Will Appeal

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

By Nikoel Hytrek

December 13, 2022

Iowans can still access abortion until the 20th week of pregnancy.

On Monday, Polk County District Court Judge Celene Gogerty denied Gov. Kim Reynolds’ motion to lift the permanent injunction on her six-week abortion ban.

The law was passed in 2018 but was blocked by the Polk County District Court in 2019. In June 2022 when both the Iowa Supreme Court and US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, Reynolds petitioned for the six-week ban to go into effect.

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Gogerty denied the motion on the grounds that, under Iowa law and rules, the court doesn’t have the authority to end the injunction and that the state failed to show there had been a substantial change in the law that would have justified it.

Reynolds responded Monday evening saying she was disappointed and planned to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

“As the Iowa and US Supreme Courts have made clear, there is no fundamental right to an abortion,” she said in a press release. “The decision of the people’s representatives to protect life should be honored, and I believe the court will ultimately do so. As long as I’m governor, I will continue to fight for the sanctity of life and for the unborn.”

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In her decision, Gogerty cited that the undue burden test was the applicable law when the ban originally passed and is still.

“The ban on nearly all abortions under Iowa Code chapter 146C would be an undue burden and, therefore, the statute would still be unconstitutional and void,” Gogerty wrote.

About half of all pregnancies are unexpected, which means a pregnant person often finds out they’re pregnant after six weeks. Even then, a lot of people don’t know they’re pregnant until around the six-week mark or after, though that varies.

The justification for the six-week ban is the presence of electrical activity that is commonly called a heartbeat. The bill itself is often called a “heartbeat bill.”

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However, that early in pregnancy, the embryo doesn’t have a heart, and so to call it a heartbeat is not an accurate medical term, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“An impartial judge has once again blocked Republican politicians’ extreme attack on Iowans’ health and freedom,” said Iowa state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, in a press release. “While this is a positive development that will preserve Iowans’ basic rights in the near term, we all know where this is headed: Republicans want to ban abortion — at six weeks or altogether if they can.”

The majority of Iowans, 61%, support abortion being legal in all or most cases, and 49% of Iowans don’t agree with the six-week restriction, according to a recent Des Moines Register poll.

“Many Iowans were depending on the outcome of the case today,” said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen in a press release. “Evidence in the case showed that the six-week ban would block more than 98 percent of abortions in our state. Even the supposed exceptions it had for rape, incest, and the life of the woman were poorly written, and extremely narrow, such that they would fail to protect people in those extremely difficult circumstances.”

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It has long been a goal for Iowa Republicans to restrict the right to abortion as much as possible. An amendment to the Iowa Constitution explicitly denying the right to abortion has been working its way through the legislature.

It only needs to pass both chambers again before it’s put on the ballot for Iowa voters.

“For now, abortion remains safe and legal in the state, and Iowans will continue to have control over their ability to determine their lives and futures,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, in a press release.

“Every person deserves the right to make private health care decisions, not politicians or judges. We won the battle today and we will keep pushing to protect the reproductive freedom of Iowans,” she continued.

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Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a press conference that Iowa Republicans would be well-served in considering the majority of Iowans who support abortion access and the national landscape where restrictions on abortion have failed when put to a vote. Kansas, she said, is one example.

Reynolds has repeatedly said her focus was on the six-week ban, and no specific other measures have been floated by her or other Iowa Republicans.

“Gov. Reynolds and Iowa Republicans are trying to force government control over this deeply personal and private decision, putting lives at risk,” Trone Garriott said in her press release. “That was true before today’s ruling and remains true now. Iowa Democrats will always defend Iowans’ freedom to make their own healthcare choices and fight back against Republicans’ extreme anti-choice agenda.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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