Most abortions are now banned in Iowa, pending court action

Reynolds signed legislation on stage at religious conservative summit

By: - July 14, 2023 3:50 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds, flanked by Iowa lawmakers and Attorney General Brenna Bird, celebrates July 14, 2023, after signing a bill banning most abortions in Iowa during a conference of religious conservatives in Des Moines. (Photo by Jay Waagmeester/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds, on stage at an evangelical Christian conference in Des Moines on Friday, signed into law a bill that immediately took effect to outlaw most abortions in the state.

Reynolds said the bill addresses “the most important human rights cause of our time: protecting unborn human lives from the atrocity of abortion.”

House File 732 passed the Iowa Legislature late Tuesday during a special legislative session. The bill bans most abortions after embryonic cardiac activity can be detected in an ultrasound, in most cases as early as six weeks of gestation. It includes narrow exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

The bill-signing took place at 2:44 p.m., while reproductive rights advocates were in court, seeking an injunction on the law.  The judge did not immediately issue a ruling, which means the bill will be in effect until at least early next week.

“As we gather here today at this very moment, the abortion industry is in the court trying to prevent this law from taking effect and stop once again the will of the people,” Reynolds said. “But the passage of this legislation by even a wider margin in this time sends an unmistakable message: The heartbeat law was not hypothetical. It was not an empty gesture and it was not a mistake. It was an ironclad commitment to the smallest and most vulnerable among us. All life is precious and worthy of the protection of our laws.”

Reynolds pointedly criticized three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court who declined to reinstate a nearly identical law that has been under permanent injunction since 2018. Reynolds sought a reversal of that ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its opinion that there is a right to abortion under the state constitution.

“While half the bench expressed the opinion that the court had failed the parties, the public and the rule of law by refusing to decide the case, the other three justices engaged in pure political rhetoric, comparing an unborn child to trash and declaring the fetal heartbeat law to be no law at all at all, but only a hypothetical law,” she said.

Reynolds was characterizing the order written by Justice Thomas Waterman, who referred to a previous ruling that found it was illegal for police to search a person’s trash without a warrant. He wrote that it would be “troubling for our court to become the first state supreme court in the nation to hold that trash set out in a garbage can for collection is entitled to more constitutional protection than a woman’s interest in autonomy and dominion over her own body.”

The order did call the 2018 law as “hypothetical” because it was unconstitutional at the time it was approved under Roe v. Wade.

Abortion providers said this week they would continue to offer services within the scope of the law. But, they added, potentially hundreds of patients could have appointments disrupted. More than 90% of the abortions performed at Planned Parenthood and Emma Goldman clinics happen after six weeks of gestation, according to the organization’s court filing. The two clinics provided about 4,000 abortions in 2022.

Reynolds signed the bill during the Family Leadership Summit, a religious conservative conference hosted by the Family Leader and featuring a half-dozen Republican presidential candidates. Tickets for the daylong event were $99 and were sold out, according to the Family Leader’s website.

“I can’t imagine a more appropriate place to sign this bill than here at the Family Leader summit alongside such strong advocates who have fought and prayed for the protection of life for decades,” Reynolds said.

Bob Vander Plaats, the CEO of the Family Leader, introducing Reynolds, said people around the country tell him, “Bob, I just have governor envy because she is arguably the best governor in the country.”

He said someone at the summit gave him a gift, wrapped in baby paper:  The flag that was flying over the Iowa Capitol on Tuesday when the abortion bill was approved.

Democrats criticized not only the legislation but also the forum Reynolds used to sign it.

“Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill today that attacks the freedom and threatens the futures of Iowa women – and she did it before a crowd of special interest insiders,” Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said in a statement. “The lives and well-being of Iowa women are at risk for as long as this law is in effect.”

“Governor Reynolds proved today that her bill to ban abortion was always about the special interests, not Iowans,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said in a news release. “It’s deadly for Iowa women and takes away the reproductive freedom that every Iowan deserves.”

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.