Court decision on injunction that would block new abortion law could come Monday

Judge hears arguments on abortion ban’s legality as Reynolds signs it into law

By: - July 14, 2023 5:12 pm

A Polk County judge is considering a petition by abortion-rights organization to block Iowa's new law restricting abortion. (Photo by Getty Images)

As Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law on Friday one of the nation’s most restrictive bans on abortion, a Polk County judge heard arguments as to why he should block that law’s enforcement.

For 75 minutes, Polk County District Judge Joseph Seidlin heard arguments from the state and from abortion-rights advocates telling the parties he would not be immediately ruling from the bench on a request to issue a temporary injunction blocking the law’s enforcement. Seidlin said the importance of the issue demands that he give the matter more thought.

“I can’t think of anything that would be more insulting to either side for a judge — who, before Wednesday at 11 o’clock, had no idea that he was going to be involved in any of this — to listen to arguments and then rule from the bench … so flippantly without giving it any thought,” he said.

Seidlin indicated he hopes to issue a ruling late Monday or, perhaps, Tuesday.

Planned Parenthood: ‘Iowans will suffer’

Just minutes before, Reynolds had signed into law House File 732, banning most abortions in Iowa after six weeks of gestation. The signing came three days after the bill was approved during an unusual special session of the Iowa Legislature. The bill took effect immediately upon Reynolds’ signature at the Family Leader Summit at the Community Choice Credit Convention Center in downtown Des Moines.

Meanwhile, less than one mile away, on the third floor of the Polk County Courthouse, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the ACLU of Iowa argued the law Reynolds was signing would put Iowa women at risk.

“When there’s a abortion ban in place, people suffer,” Peter Im, attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America told Judge Seidlin. “If House File 732 takes effect, Iowans will suffer.”

Planned Parenthood and its co-plaintiffs had filed an emergency motion on Wednesday seeking a temporary injunction that would prevent the new law from being enforced, at least while litigation over the broader issue of the law’s constitutionality was before the court.

The legislation is nearly identical to a 2018 law that the Iowa Supreme Court found unconstitutional and blocked from taking effect. It bans most abortions after embryonic cardiac activity can be detected through an ultrasound, which is usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill contains narrow exceptions for rape and incest, or for procedures needed to save the patient’s life.

State: New law will ‘prevent the destruction of human lives’

At Friday’s hearing, Im argued that at six weeks, many people do not yet know they are pregnant. Citing the fact that the law was written to take effect upon Reynolds’ signature, he asked Seidlin for an immediate ruling from the bench.

The plaintiffs’ case is built on the grounds that the new law violates the Iowa Constitution because, in seeking to protect the unborn, it places an undue burden on prospective mothers and forces them to carry pregnancies to term.

“House File 732 unquestionably imposes an undue burden on those seeking an abortion in Iowa,” Im told Judge Seidlin. “Therefore, it’s unconstitutional – full stop.”

The state is arguing Iowa’s constitution doesn’t guarantee a right to abortion and that decisions about the new law’s legality should be based not on whether it places an “undue burden” on those seeking abortions but on whether the state has a “reasonable basis” – such as protecting the lives of the unborn – for enacting such a law.

Daniel Johnston, an attorney representing the state, told the court that while the plaintiffs had detailed numerous perceived harms to those seeking an abortion and to Iowans in general, any mention of the “unborn life” that is lost through abortion was “conspicuously absent” from their arguments.

“The petitioners would have the court believe the only hardship here is to their patients and that’s the only thing that weighs in the balance,” Johnston said. “The fetal heartbeat bill,” he said, using the term that’s often used to describe the new law, “aims to prevent the destruction of human lives, and the court must take those lives into account.”

The new law sprang from Reynolds’ efforts this year to have the Iowa Supreme Court reconsider the original 2018 law in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. However, the Iowa court, split 3-3, kept the injunction in place, prompting Reynolds to call a special session to again pass what is essentially the same law.

Justice Thomas Waterman, writing for the three justices on the prevailing side, concluded the “undue burden” standard for reviewing abortion laws remained in place, although he acknowledged that could change. The 2018 law remains unconstitutional under that standard, which means abortion laws cannot create excessive hurdles in procuring access to abortion without serving a legitimate public interest.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.