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Planned Parenthood, ACLU Sue Iowa Governor Over Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Law

rita bettis
Katarina Sostaric
ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis announces the lawsuit over the fetal heartbeat abortion law at a news conference Tuesday, May 15, 2018.

Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Iowa and the Emma Goldman Clinic are suing Gov. Kim Reynolds over her recent signing of the fetal heartbeat abortion law.

They say the law—which bans most abortions after about six weeks into pregnancy—should be struck down as unconstitutional. They are also asking the Polk County District Court to block the law from taking effect while the lawsuit plays out.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO Suzanna de Baca said Tuesday if the law takes effect July 1, it will have a “devastating effect” on women seeking abortions.

“Most of the people who come to us are beyond six weeks [gestation] and it would mean they would have to go out of state,” de Baca said. “Or even worse, we foresee that there would be patients who would try to self-induce [abortions] often using dangerous or illegal means.”

“The timing makes it an almost complete ban on abortions in our state,” said Emma Goldman Clinic Co-director Francine Thompson. She said less than 2 percent of the abortions performed at her clinic last year were before or around the six-week mark.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis said no state or federal court has upheld an abortion law that is this restrictive.

“We believe that the Iowa Constitution protects abortion rights as strongly, if not more so, than the federal constitution,” Bettis said.

Because the lawsuit makes claims under the Iowa Constitution and not the U.S. Constitution, federal courts don’t have jurisdiction over this case. That means it’s highly unlikely the lawsuit would appear in federal courts and present a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Some supporters of the fetal heartbeat abortion law previously said they wanted it to provide the opportunity to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

The lawsuit also names the Iowa Board of Medicine as a defendant.

Gov. Reynolds’ spokesperson Brenna Smith said the state will be represented by the Thomas More Society “at no cost to taxpayers.” The Executive Council would still need to approve hiring an outside law firm. 

“We knew there would be a legal fight, but it’s a fight worth having to protect innocent life,” Smith said in an email.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, has decided he will not represent the state in this case.

“The disqualification is based on the Attorney General’s determination that he could not zealously assert the state’s position because of his core belief that the statute, if upheld, would undermine rights and protections for women,” read a letter from the A.G.’s office to the state Executive Council.

Miller’s office defended the state when Planned Parenthood sued over the 2017 law that mandated a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. The Iowa Supreme Court has yet to issue an opinion in that case.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter