© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

State Of Iowa, Planned Parenthood Oppose Third-Party Intervention In Abortion Lawsuit

rebecca kiessling
Katarina Sostaric
Save the 1 President Rebecca Kiessling speaks at the Polk County Courthouse Friday, August 17, 2018.

A Polk County judge heard arguments Friday from a group trying to intervene in a legal challenge over Iowa’s law that bans most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The Michigan-based group, Save the 1, claims the law’s exceptions for victims of rape and incest are unconstitutional because they discriminate against people conceived in those situations.

Rebecca Kiessling is the group’s founder, president and attorney, and she told the judge she was conceived when her mother was raped.

“Here we have this discrimination. We were invited to testify on the bill. And so it’s the perfect opportunity for us to actually defend our lives,” Kiessling said.

She said exceptions for rape and incest “are based on the fabrication that aborting these children is medically necessary.”

Kiessling wants her claims to be added to the ongoing legal challenge launched by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the ACLU of Iowa.

They say the whole law is unconstitutional and should be struck down. In June, Judge Michael Huppert temporarily blocked the fetal heartbeat abortion law from being enforced while the legal challenge plays out.

Planned Parenthood and the state asked the judge to deny Save the 1’s request to intervene.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said it would complicate and delay the case for all parties.

“We anticipate a relatively swift resolution to this case given that the Iowa Supreme Court has so recently addressed these constitutional questions in the Planned Parenthood 72-hour mandatory minimum waiting period case,” Austen said, referring to the Court’s recent opinion that the Iowa Constitution strongly protects abortion rights.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson added there is also a conflict of interest because the Thomas More Society, the anti-abortion-rights group defending the state, has represented Save the 1 in the past. If Save the 1 is allowed to intervene, the Thomas More Society may face a former client in court.

Kiessling said she will file a claim in federal court if she’s denied the chance to intervene in this case.

Asked if this is an effort to push the whole legal challenge into the federal court system, which some supporters of the fetal heartbeat abortion law wanted, Kiessling said it would be “beneficial” to get this case into federal court.

“It would be in the state’s interest to preserve the law to have us as an intervener so that we can remove the case to federal court,” Kiessling said. “Because the way I see it, this case will be dead in state court except for our federal interest. We do have a federal claim on the case.”

The state, however, is opposed to Kiessling’s intervention.

“I think we’ve viewed this case as about the [abortion] ban, not the exceptions,” said Martin Cannon, a Thomas More Society attorney representing the state. “We had no trouble defending the bill insofar as we didn’t have to defend the exceptions. This changes that. It creates a problem for us going forward if the interveners are in the case.”

Judge Huppert could rule on Save the 1’s motion to intervene as soon as next week.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter