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Planned Parenthood, State Present Arguments In 'Fetal Heartbeat' Legal Challenge

The legal battle over Iowa’s law that prohibits most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected continued with a hearing Friday in a packed courtroom at the Polk County Courthouse.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa, with their motion for summary judgment, asked the judge to forgo a trial and declare the abortion law unconstitutional.

Planned Parenthood lawyer Alice Clapman said it would ban almost all abortions in the state because cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant. She said that violates a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling that abortion is a fundamental right.

“You cannot recognize this right as fundamental, recognize how important it is to have that freedom, and then allow the state to come in and ban it,” Clapman said.

Martin Cannon, a lawyer from the Thomas More Society, argued on behalf of the state that many women would actually have up to 10 weeks to terminate a pregnancy under this law.

“We haven’t banned any abortions,” Cannon said. “We have just taken the abortions that are all over the map time-wise and said, ‘Have them promptly. You can do it. There’s plenty of time.’”

In Iowa, abortions are currently illegal after 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

The “fetal heartbeat” abortion restriction isn’t being enforced while the legal challenge plays out. No court has upheld a law like this, and it’s considered to be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Cannon argued the law lives up to the strict scrutiny standard set by the Iowa Supreme Court for restrictions on abortion.

“Take it as a given that it’s a fundamental right. That doesn’t mean it’s totally hands off. It means regulate it carefully,” Cannon said.

He added the law is narrowly tailored to the compelling state interest of protecting potential life.

Clapman disagreed.

“You cannot recognize a compelling state interest in essentially banning abortion…and also recognize that abortion is a deeply personal decision as the Iowa Supreme Court did, and recognize that it’s essential to autonomy, dignity and equality,” Clapman said.

Judge Michael Huppert said it will likely take him nearly two months to decide either to permanently block the law or to move forward with a trial.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter