Injunction blocks enforcement of new abortion restrictions in Iowa

By: - July 17, 2023 5:17 pm

An Iowa judge on Monday blocked the state from enforcing a new law that seeks to ban almost all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. (Photo illustration via Getty Images)

An Iowa judge on Monday issued an injunction that prevents the state from enforcing a new law that seeks to ban almost all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

The temporary injunction was issued three days after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law. With Monday’s ruling, abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy is, after 72 hours of being outlawed, once again legal in Iowa. With the injunction in place, the underlying lawsuit challenging the new law’s constitutionality will work its way through the courts.

“While life was protected for a few days, now even more innocent babies will be lost,” Reynolds said in a statement Monday. “The abortion industry’s attempt to thwart the will of Iowans and the voices of their elected representatives continues today, but I will fight this all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court where we expect a decision that will finally provide justice for the unborn.”

Senate Democratic Leader Pam Jochum of Dubuque had a different view of the court’s decision.

“The six-week abortion ban rammed through the legislature last week is an unconstitutional and dangerous attack on Iowa women,” she said in a statement. “I’m relieved that the district court block(ed) this law, protecting Iowa women and allowing a thorough judicial review to take place. Iowans should be free to make their own healthcare decisions without government interference.”

The temporary injunction was requested by three petitioners in a case that seeks to void the new law by having it declared unconstitutional: Planned Parenthood North Central States, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the ACLU of Iowa.

“Today’s ruling means patients across Iowa will be able to access abortion care and retain control over their bodies and futures,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. “We will continue to oppose this egregious, unconstitutional ban as it works its way through the courts.”

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said the injunction is “essential to protecting the bodily autonomy rights and freedom of Iowans, as well as their health and safety, while this unconstitutional and dangerous abortion ban is litigated. We know Iowans stand with us in wanting to protect abortion rights and keep politicians out of doctor-patient decision-making.”

New law mirrors 2018 measure blocked by courts

The new law sought to prohibit almost all abortions once embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which is typically around the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant. It is almost identical to a bill that Reynolds signed into law in 2018. Enforcement of that law was also blocked by a court-ordered injunction.

In the wake of this year’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that essentially overturned Roe v. Wade, lawyers for the state filed a petition in district court to dissolve the injunction. The court rejected that proposal, which led to an appeal that went before the Iowa Supreme Court, where the justices deadlocked on a decision and left the injunction in place.

With the 2018 law negated, Iowa lawmakers convened in a special session last week to pass a virtually identical bill, triggering an immediate legal challenge by Planned Parenthood North Central States, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the ACLU of Iowa.

Polk County District Judge Joseph Seidlin presided over a hearing on the matter Friday at which lawyers for the plaintiffs argued a temporary injunction blocking the law’s enforcement was needed. To win that argument, they had to convince Seidlin their larger case about the constitutionality of the law was likely to succeed, and that in the absence of the injunction they would suffer irreparable harm.

Judge: Petitioners are likely to win using the ‘undue burden’ test 

The plaintiffs argue 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.

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.

The decision as to which standard to apply in the case – undue burden or reasonable basis – is almost certain to determine the outcome of the case itself.

Noting that the Iowa Supreme Court’s recent plurality decision specifically held that the undue burden test remains the governing standard in such cases, Seidlin said, “This court is not at liberty to overturn precedent of our Supreme Court … This court does not get to declare that our Supreme Court got it wrong and then impose a different standard. Such would be an alarming exercise of judicial activism. This court is bound to decide this matter pursuant to the instruction of our Supreme Court.”

Seidlin pointed out that “when the undue burden standard is applied, it is readily apparent that the petitioners are likely to succeed on their claim” that the new violates the Iowa Constitution.

House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said Seidlin’s ruling was “a win for reproductive freedom and it will save lives. It’s simple: politicians and judges have no place interfering in someone else’s decisions about when to start a family. Reynolds and Republican lawmakers are so busy playing politics to appease the special interests that they’ve stopped listening to the strong majority of Iowans who do not support their abortion ban.”

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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.