Judge rejects Reynolds’ request to reinstate Iowa’s fetal-heartbeat law

By: - December 12, 2022 6:20 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she will appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. (Photo by Getty Images)

A district judge on Monday declined to lift the nearly 4-year-old injunction that has kept a restrictive abortion law in Iowa from taking effect.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has been seeking to end the injunction since the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in June that there is no fundamental right to abortion in the state constitution that would require the highest judicial scrutiny for any law that limits it.

The 2018 law would outlaw most abortions after a fetus has developed for about six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The law has exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the pregnant patient.

In her ruling, District Judge Celene Gogerty said she doesn’t have the authority to dissolve the permanent injunction against the law and that, even if she did, there has not been a substantial change to Iowa law that would warrant such a dissolution. She wrote it’s unclear what judicial standard should be applied to abortion laws in Iowa in the future.

“It is not in the district court where the standard should be further litigated,” Gogerty wrote.

The Iowa Supreme Court, in its June ruling, did not say what standard should be used in lieu of “strict scrutiny,” which had required the state’s abortion laws to be narrowly written for a compelling public purpose. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which established a constitutional right to abortion and imposed an “undue burden” test on abortion laws. That test is a middle-of-the-road judicial approach compared with “strict scrutiny” and “rational basis,” which typically invalidates laws that are clearly unrelated to any legitimate public interest.

Gogerty said the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling this summer left intact an “undue burden” test for the state’s abortion laws that she lacks the authority to change.

“The ban on nearly all abortions under (the fetal-heartbeat bill) would be an undue
burden and, therefore, the statute would still be unconstitutional and void,” she wrote.

Reynolds said in a statement that she was disappointed by the ruling but that the case would inevitably have been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

“We will appeal this decision immediately,” Reynolds said. “As the Iowa and U.S. Supreme Courts have made clear, there is no fundamental right to an abortion.”

An appeal can go directly to the Iowa Supreme Court, which has the discretion to send it first to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.