Arguments to lift block on Iowa’s ‘fetal heartbeat’ law begin Friday

By: - October 27, 2022 5:58 pm

A judge will hear arguments Friday in Gov. Kim Reynolds' effort to lift an injunction on the state's "fetal heartbeat" abortion law. (Photo via Getty Images)

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ allies will be in court Friday, asking a judge to reinstitute the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law in light of the recent U.S. and Iowa Supreme Court decisions overturning constitutional protections for abortion.

The controversial case is moving forward just ahead of the midterm elections, as Democrats work to capitalize on most voters’ reluctance to see tighter abortion restrictions.

The Republican governor seeks to reverse a 2019 Iowa Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds. The previous decision blocked enforcement of a state law that would make most abortions illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs roughly six weeks after conception. The law has exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, is representing Reynolds in the court case. Attorneys with the organization said the state and federal Supreme Court decisions finding abortion access was not a constitutionally protected right have changed the law “so significantly” that the law should be allowed to take effect.

ADF leaders will argue in Polk County District Court that Iowa has “the strongest possible interest” in enforcing the law.

“Pro-life laws like Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law not only protect the lives of countless innocent, unborn children, but they also protect the dignity and health of women — providing real support and health care during a vulnerable time,” Denise Harle, director of the ADF Center for Life said Thursday in a news release. “We’re pleased to support Governor Reynolds in helping defend Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law as we continue our crucial efforts promoting life-affirming laws for mothers and children.”

Democrats claim more abortion restrictions on the horizon

The oral arguments come just ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Democrats warned Thursday that Republicans will push for more abortion restrictions if they retain control of Iowa’s state government.

Gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear speaks at an Iowa Democratic Party press conference about the upcoming court case on abortion law in Iowa in Des Moines Thursday, Oct. 27. (Screenshot from Iowa Democratic Party livestream)

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said during a news conference that Republicans “won’t stop” at the six-week ban if the injunction is lifted. Some Republican legislators in the Iowa House voted against exceptions in the fetal heartbeat law, she said, in addition to voting against birth control access.

“We have those votes, we know what they want to do,” Konfrst said. “So what happens in this hearing is step one on the road to a total abortion ban, and it’s simply unacceptable.”

Reynolds did not reconvene the Legislature for a special session to pass further abortion restrictions after the court decisions. While some states have already enacted more abortion restrictions since the court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, Reynolds has stuck to court challenges for laws already passed in Iowa to restrict access to the procedure.

But Democrat Deidre DeJear, who is challenging Reynolds in the November election, said the governor is “causing women harm” by bringing the abortion cases to court.

“I want people to understand that she is responsible for where we are in these moments,” DeJear said. “The fact that she is pushing legislation that doesn’t lift Iowans up, the fact that she’s pushing legislation that doesn’t add value to our communities but causes harm.”

Reynolds did not clarify during a recent debate whether she would support further restrictions on abortion in the future. She said she is focused on the court cases this year.

“When it’s going through the courts, I’m not going to weigh in either way,” Reynolds said. “But my goal is to make sure that we make the law that’s on the books.”

One of the speakers at the Democrats’ news conference was a women identified only as Clara, who said she lost her child when she was 5-and-a-half-months pregnant. Doctors performed a Caesarian section in an attempt to save her and the fetus from a bacterial infection which was causing her organs to fail. While she recovered after a five-day coma, the baby did not survive.

Doctors told her later that if she was to become pregnant again, she would be at high risk of both losing the child she carried, as well as losing her own life.

“If I became pregnant tomorrow, I would require an abortion in order to safeguard my life,” she said.

DeJear thanked the woman for sharing her story, and said it illustrated how Republicans’ “black and white” view of abortions does not account for the medical complications present in many situations in which people seek abortions. Legislation restricting abortion could prevent women from receiving care that could save their lives, she said.

“This is life and death for Iowans, who are hardworking people, who have established families, who have children,” DeJear said.

The gubernatorial candidate also said that most Iowans do not support abortion restrictions. An October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found 61% of Iowans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. The poll also found 85% of Iowans believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, and 89% believe abortion should be legal if the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.