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Judge Strikes Down Iowa's 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Law

planned parenthood lawyer
Michael Zamora
Des Moines Register
Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman in Polk County District Court on June 1, 2018.

A Polk County judge struck down Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion law Tuesday and ruled it is unconstitutional.

Judge Michael Huppert agreed with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa that a trial was not necessary to reach that conclusion and ruled in favor of their motion for summary judgment.

The two groups, along with the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, challenged the law that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

“We are extremely grateful that the district court here in Polk County has reaffirmed that abortion is a fundamental, constitutionally-protected right and has struck down the blatantly unconstitutional ban on abortion,” said Erin Davison-Rippey, state executive director for Planned Parenthood.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement she is “incredibly disappointed” in the ruling because she believes “a beating heart indicates life.”

Reynolds signed the bill into law in May 2018. At the time, it was described as the most restrictive abortion law in the country.

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a separate abortion restriction in June 2018. That opinion found the Iowa Constitution protects abortion as a fundamental right, and only laws “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest” can legally restrict abortion.

Judge Huppert ruled the “fetal heartbeat” law violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution. He wrote that because the law prohibits abortions long before a fetus would be able to survive outside the womb, it is “not narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life.”

Rep. Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) was a major backer of the “fetal heartbeat” law. She said it’s a terrible court ruling and the state should appeal it.

“Summary judgment means it’s not going to go to trial,” she said. “So they’re not even going to hear the side of the unborn baby.”

Salmon added she thinks Iowa’s courts are “very liberal,” and advocated for changing the judicial nominating process.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) said the ruling sends a message to Iowa women that 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,” Petersen said.

As of Tuesday evening, there was no word from state officials on whether they will appeal the ruling. The Thomas More Society has been defending the state in this case.

“We will continue to fight this every step of the way,” Erin Davison-Rippey said.

Read Judge Huppert's ruling here.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter