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Judge Temporarily Blocks 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Law

planned parenthood lawyer
Michael Zamora
Des Moines Register
Alice Clapman, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, speaks at the Polk County Courthouse Friday, June 1, 2018.

A Polk County judge Friday temporarily blocked Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion law from being enforced while a legal challenge is underway. The law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, was supposed to take effect July 1.

The temporary injunction is the first step in a legal challenge led by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa. They, along with the Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City, argue the law is unconstitutional.

Martin Cannon is an attorney with the Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm that is defending the state. He agreed to not fight the injunction.

“We’d like to get to the merits of the case sooner, without just rehashing old ground,” Cannon said. “We think that we’ll have a better resolution, sooner, if we skip this step.”

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis told reporters her team is satisfied with that decision. 

“Women in Iowa don’t have to live with the burden of that uncertainty of knowing whether or not they’ll have abortion rights come July 1,” Bettis said.

Both legal teams appeared in court Friday morning, but the session was very brief because they agreed to put the law on hold. Fifth District Judge Michael Huppert said he would enter the temporary injunction later Friday.

Bettis said the next step in the case is for the state to file an answer to the legal challenge. Then the case would be decided at the Iowa district court level and possibly continue on to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the “fetal heartbeat” bill into law on May 4, giving Iowa one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. It bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, with limited exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the life of the mother.

Some abortion rights opponents have said they want the case against Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law to go to the U.S. Supreme Court as a challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Other observers have said it is highly unlikely that would happen because the lawsuit only makes claims under the Iowa Constitution.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter