ACLU Files Suit to Stop Iowa Abortion Ban

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, plus Iowa abortion care providers Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic, filed a challenge to the abortion ban passed Tuesday by the Iowa Legislature.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is scheduled to sign the bill Friday afternoon. After that, the ban would take effect immediately.

ACLU and the others are seeking an emergency temporary injunction on enforcement of the new bill from the Polk County District Court—basically, blocking it from taking effect.

“We’re seeking to block this ban because we know that, every day that the law is in effect, Iowans will face life-threatening barriers to getting desperately needed medical care—just as we’ve seen in other states with similar bans,” said Rita Bettis Austen, the legal director for the ACLU of Iowa.


The ACLU was granted a hearing for Friday afternoon, July 14—the same day Reynolds plans to sign the bill into law. Judge Joseph Seidlin will hear the case.

What is the ACLU arguing?

The main argument in the case will be that the ban is unconstitutional under the “undue burden” standard, which the Iowa Supreme Court asserted is still the standard under the Iowa Constitution.

The petition cites that the bill would ban almost all abortions, that the Polk County District Court permanently blocked the 2018 law—which was virtually identical to the bill passed Tuesday—and that the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed that action just last month.

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The law bans abortion after electrical pulses are detected in an embryo, usually around six to eight weeks. The pulses are not caused by a physical heart beating and, at this stage, the embryo is barely visible and the gestational sac less than half-an-inch long.

“By banning the vast majority of abortions in Iowa, the Act unlawfully violates the rights of Petitioners, their medical providers and other staff, and their patients under the Iowa Constitution and would severely jeopardize their health, safety, and welfare,” the filing reads.

There are exceptions to the bill, but in order to qualify there are barriers such as reporting a sexual assault or incest within a certain window of time, or a clear threat to a patient’s physical health.

“These so-called exceptions also rely on the false belief that some people deserve health care and some people do not,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.

You can still obtain abortion care, including help getting an abortion elsewhere, at these Iowa clinics.

What would an injunction do?

An emergency injunction would block enforcement, meaning the law wouldn’t take effect until (and unless) the court decides if it’s constitutional.

Bettis Austen said there is precedent for filing an injunction before a bill is signed. Peter Im, staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, clarified they aren’t asking the court to block the governor from signing the bill, but to block enforcement of the law after.

“We believe that the Iowa Supreme Court has been clear that undue burden is the governing standard,” he said. “And so that means that this law is absolutely unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution. And so we believe that we’re entitled to the relief that we’re asking here.”

Im also said he fully expects the case to make it to the Iowa Supreme Court, and hopes the Polk County District Court will block the law’s enforcement and keep it blocked while the case works its way through the courts.

“It’s certainly a case of public importance that affects the constitutional rights of millions of Iowans,” he said.

Does it mean you can still get an abortion in Iowa?

Im couldn’t say if, or how long, the law might be in effect, but he said the fact that a hearing was scheduled for Friday afternoon made him hopeful.

“I think that indicates that the courts understand that it’s important to hear this case quickly and to rule on this case quickly,” he said. “I have my fingers crossed that we’ll have a ruling sooner rather than later.”

During the weeks of July 10 and July 17 (this week and next), Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Emma Goldman Clinic had 200 patients scheduled for services, according to papers filed with the court.

There was no confirmation about whether any appointments had been canceled.

“These are really difficult decisions for patients and we outlined this in our papers, but this is absolutely one of the reasons why it’s so critical that the courts block this ban—because it’s so hard for patients to get out of state,” Im said.

He added that problems finding a trusted health care provider, transportation, time off work and resources to get to an out-of-state clinic were “kind of at the crux of what we’re seeing a lot of patients facing throughout the country, and what we’re hoping we can avoid for Iowans.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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