Iowa attorney general files state’s argument for six-week abortion law

By: - November 8, 2023 4:54 pm

The Iowa Supreme Court chamber in the Iowa Judicial Building on Feb. 22, 2023. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird filed the state’s legal argument to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, seeking to uphold a law that would ban most abortions after six weeks.

The law has been under an injunction since July, three days after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law. The Iowa Supreme Court plans to hear the appeal.

The Republican attorney general argues in the brief that the challenge by Planned Parenthood North Central States, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the ACLU of Iowa should be rejected, as it relies on the legal test rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. Bird also argues “abortion providers cannot sue at all, given that there is no constitutional right to provide abortions,” according to a news release.

Bird said she was committed to making Iowa’s abortion law enforceable as soon as possible. The so-called “heartbeat” law would ban most abortions as soon as embryonic cardiac activity is detected, typically after six weeks of gestation. The law contains limited exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the pregnant patient.

“We know that every moment counts when it comes to protecting the unborn and are working diligently to ensure the Heartbeat Law is upheld,” Bird said in a statement. “I’m confident that the law is on our side, and we will continue fighting to defend the right to life in court.”

The state’s highest court, in a June decision, let an injunction stand for a nearly identical law approved in 2018. Reynolds had asked the court to lift the injunction.  Justice Thomas D. Waterman wrote for the majority that the 2018 abortion law was passed by lawmakers during a time when its restrictions were unconstitutional under state and federal precedents. However, he wrote, the law could be upheld if passed again now that the U.S. and state supreme courts have found there was no constitutional right to an abortion.

Within weeks of the decision, Reynolds convened the Iowa Legislature for a one-day special session to pass the six-week abortion ban legislation again. She signed the law July 14.

The new law was immediately challenged, and a Polk County district judge issued an injunction on the law three days after Reynolds’ signing.

In a news release Wednesday, Reynolds called for the Iowa Supreme Court to allow enforcement of the law, saying the injunction on Iowa’s abortion ban “has already led to the innocent deaths of children.”

“It needs to end,” she said. “Every life is valuable and worth our state’s protection – no matter what stage of life they are in.”

She also argued that the law is supported by Iowans, saying the people of Iowa and lawmakers “have spoken clearly and by a wider margin than before” by passing the law again in the special session.

But Democrats and reproductive rights advocates say the law is not supported by Iowans, calling for the court to keep the injunction in place.

“Today’s legal filing and statements from the governor and attorney general show once again how extreme, anti-choice politicians are out of touch with the will of Iowa voters,” state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, said in a news release.

In a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll taken in March, 61% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. An October Iowa Poll of likely Republican caucusgoers found less than half of respondents, 41% say abortion restrictions are extremely important to them headed into the 2024 election season, but more than half disagreed with former President Donald Trump calling a six-week abortion ban a “terrible mistake.”

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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.