Judge Places Temporary Block On Iowa’s New Abortion Ban

Iowa protest for reproductive rights at Iowa Capitol on July 11. Photo by Starting Line staff

By Nikoel Hytrek

July 17, 2023

Abortion in Iowa is legal again up to 20 weeks.

Polk County District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin granted a temporary injunction on Monday to block enforcement of the new law which banned abortion around six weeks, too early for most to know they’re pregnant.

“The current state of the law in Iowa remains, at least for the time being, that some level of constitutional protection applies to women seeking abortion in Iowa, requiring an undue burden standard of analysis,” Seidlin wrote.

That means laws are invalid if the point or the result of the law is to put substantial obstacles in the way of people seeking abortions.

“We are deeply relieved that the court granted this relief so essential health care in Iowa can continue. We are also acutely aware that the relief is only pending further litigation and the future of abortion in Iowa remains tenuous and threatened,” said Dr. Abbey Hardy-Fairbanks, medical director of the Emma Goldman Clinic.

The law required physicians to perform an abdominal ultrasound to confirm whether any electrical pulses were happening in the embryo. This is commonly called a heartbeat, but no physical heart has developed that early in pregnancy.

The ban has exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies but they’re narrow and the rape and incest exceptions have reporting requirements (45 and 140 days, respectively).

Across the country, in other states with strict abortion bans, vague, narrow exceptions have led to confusion for doctors and patients and put people’s lives in danger. The state of Texas is being sued by a group of women (15 as of May) for its restrictive abortion law and the suffering it caused them.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa and abortion providers filed for the injunction of Wednesday, after the Iowa Legislature passed the bill in special session but before Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law on Friday at a gathering of evangelicals and Republican candidates for president. The ban took effect upon signing.

Because she announced her intent to sign the bill, Seidlin confirmed the ACLU of Iowa and the abortion providers had a valid reason to file when they did.

“This order is essential to protecting the bodily autonomy rights and freedom of Iowans, as well as their health and safety, while this unconstitutional and dangerous abortion ban is litigated. We know Iowans stand with us in wanting to protect abortion rights and keep politicians out of doctor-patient decision-making,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa.

Shortly after the ruling came out, Reynolds released a statement promising to fight the newest injunction.

“The abortion industry’s attempt to thwart the will of Iowans and the voices of their elected representatives continues today, but I will fight this all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court where we expect a decision that will finally provide justice for the unborn,” Reynolds said in the statement.

Polls have consistently shown a solid majority of Iowans support the right to abortion. The latest shows 61% of Iowans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

“Today’s ruling is a win for reproductive freedom and it will save lives. It’s simple: politicians and judges have no place interfering in someone else’s decisions about when to start a family,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst.

“Reynolds and Republican lawmakers are so busy playing politics to appease the special interests that they’ve stopped listening to the strong majority of Iowans who do not support their abortion ban,” she continued. “Iowans support and deserve their fundamental right to make health care decisions about their own bodies.”

The six-week ban was almost identical to a similar law passed in 2018 that was permanently enjoined. Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to lift that injunction and allow the law to go into effect.

“Today’s ruling means patients across Iowa will be able to access abortion care and retain control over their bodies and futures. We are proud to continue providing the care our patients need and deserve,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.

 

Nikoel Hytrek
7/17/23

 

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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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