Judge declares Iowa fetal heartbeat law unconstitutional

DES MOINES, Iowa — A state judge on Tuesday struck down Iowa’s restrictive “fetal heartbeat” abortion law, which would have been the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation.

Judge Michael Huppert found the law unconstitutional, concluding that the Iowa Supreme Court’s earlier decisions that affirm a woman’s fundamental right to an abortion would include the new law passed last year

He also cited several cases in federal court, including decisions in 2015 and 2016 in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that indicated such abortion laws were unconstitutional.

Huppert said prohibiting abortions at the detection of a fetal heartbeat violates “both the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life.”

The law would ban an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

The legal challenge by abortion providers Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Emma Goldman Clinic had halted it from taking effect last July.

“I am incredibly disappointed in today’s court ruling, because I believe that if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then a beating heart indicates life,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.

She signed the bill into law in May 2018.

The ruling, released on the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion nationwide on Jan. 22, 1973, was met with determination to continue to fight by opponents.

Republican Rep. Sandy Salmons, the main sponsor of the bill in the House, was disappointed the judge ended the case before it could be tried before a jury.

“He didn’t even let it go to trial so that an unborn baby could be defended in court,” she said.

She said she hopes the state appeals the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court and she suspects Republicans will work on further legislation “to make corrections to what the courts have done.”

Erin Davison-Rippey, Planned Parenthood’s State Executive Director of Iowa, said the law was Reynolds’ “egregious attempt to ban safe, legal abortions in Iowa.”

“Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up for Iowa women and fight back against the Legislature’s attacks on reproductive health. We will do all we can to make sure abortion continues to be safe and legal in our state — no matter what,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen said the decision sends a strong message to Iowa women that their constitutional rights are important and their health care decisions should be made by them, not politicians.

“The extreme law should have been overturned because it restricted the freedom of Iowa women and girls to care for their bodies and it forced motherhood on them,” she said.

The providers argued in court in December that the law is “blatantly unconstitutional under clear Iowa law.”

Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman said courts in several states that recognize abortion as a fundamental right — North Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi included — have dismissed similar abortion bans before trial.

The Iowa Supreme Court in June struck down an earlier law that required a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, ruling that the restriction was unconstitutional and that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.”

Attorney Martin Cannon argued for the state that the bill is extremely narrow in focus by saying a beating heart signifies life in a fetus and that human life must be protected once an abdominal ultrasound identifies a beating heart. He didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

Cannon said the bill does not prevent an abortion. He said it just pushes women to do it sooner in the pregnancy. He argued there are too many disputed issues to be heard at trial and the judge should not end the lawsuit.

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