Iowa’s near-total abortion ban takes effect

Iowa’s near-total abortion ban takes effect

Iowa Democrat Jennifer Konfrst speaks to protesters rallying at the Iowa Capitol rotunda in opposition to the new ban on abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy introduced by Republican lawmakers in a special session on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Hannah Fingerhut)

By Nikoel Hytrek

June 28, 2024

A near-total abortion ban is now in place in Iowa.

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday, June 28, ruled 4-3 to dissolve the injunction placed on the law in July 2023 by Polk County District Judge Joseph Seidlin, at the request of Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird. The majority included Matthew McDermott, David May, Dana Oxley, and Christopher McDonald. All were appointed by Reynolds.

The injunction kept the abortion ban, passed by Republicans in 2023, from being enforced while the separate case against the law makes its way through the courts. With the injunction gone, the ban will go into effect.

The 2023 abortion ban prohibits abortion after electric pulses are detected in an ultrasound. That can happen between 6 and 8 weeks, which is before most people realize they’re pregnant. A ban at this stage of pregnancy would prohibit nearly 98% of abortions in Iowa, and lead to significant harm to Iowans.

The law claims those electric pulses are “fetal cardiac activity,” but there is no physical heart that early in pregnancy, and the pulses are not beats. The pregnancy also isn’t in the fetal stage. But the language is used to push the idea of “fetal personhood.”

Exceptions

Iowa’s abortion ban has limited exceptions for those who are pregnant because of rape or incest, but people have to report that within 45 days (about six weeks) and 140 days (20 weeks), respectively in order to get an abortion. Most rapes and cases of incest don’t get reported.

Rules released by the Iowa Board of Medicine clarify how doctors should handle patients who seek abortions with rape and incest claims, but Iowa OB-GYNs have said the rules still don’t offer them the guidance they need to do their jobs.

The rules don’t mention the other exception, either: abortions to save a patient’s life. As written, Iowa OB-GYNs said the law is unclear when they’d be allowed to act to save a pregnant patient’s life.

Across the country, abortion bans—even those with life-of-the-mother exceptions like Iowa’s—have led many doctors and hospitals to wait until the last minute to provide abortion care because the woman’s death wasn’t close enough and they tried to avoid breaking the law.

As a result, many women have experienced massive blood loss and have needed emergency surgery or lost organs because they were denied abortions in time.

The ban is similar to an abortion ban passed in 2018. In 2023, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the permanent block on the 2018 law, which prompted the special legislative session in July to pass the current abortion ban.

Reynolds and other Iowa Republicans have said the ban is the will of the Iowa people, but polling consistently shows Iowans support abortion access. Last year, 61% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

  • 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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