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Iowa governor asks court to reinstate six-week abortion ban

FILE - Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature, on Jan. 11, 2022, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds is introducing herself to the nation by delivering the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Charlie Neibergall
Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking a court to reinstate a law she signed banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and top Republican legislative leaders are asking Iowa courts to reinstate a ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy in the wake of two major court decisions that struck down legal protections for abortion rights.

Reynolds signed the so-called “fetal heartbeat” billinto law in 2018, but it was blocked by a court and never enforced. Abortion is still legal in Iowa up until 20 weeks of pregnancy.

She is also asking the Iowa Supreme Court to make it even easier for abortion restrictions to survive court challenges.

“Now is the time for us to stand up and continue to fight to protect the unborn,” Reynolds said in a statement Tuesday. “The Supreme Court’s historic decision reaffirms that states have the right to protect the innocent and defenseless unborn—and now it’s time for our state to do just that. As governor, I will do whatever it takes to defend the most important freedom there is: the right to life.”

If the law is allowed to take effect, it would ban abortions, with some exceptions, after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected by abdominal ultrasound. That can be as early as six weeks after the person’s last menstrual period, which is before many women know they are pregnant.

Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said during a Tuesday taping of Iowa Press on Iowa PBS that the most recent polling shows a majority of Iowans support abortion being legal in most or all cases.

“Iowans are tired of politicians making decisions for them, and they’re tired of political games,” Konfrst said. “And I think when they hear this news, they’re going to think it’s another example of trying to work the system instead of adequately addressing and really getting input from everyday Iowans.”

Konfrst said she expects Reynolds to call a special legislative session to further restrict abortion if she doesn’t get her way in court.

“Iowa Republicans will not stop until they have completely banned abortion without exception,” said Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls. “This is an incredibly dangerous action that threatens the health, safety and future of Iowa women.”

On June 17, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned its own 2018 decision that found abortion rights were strongly protected by the Iowa Constitution, but it did not decide what the new legal standard should be for evaluating abortion laws.

Reynolds and GOP leaders are arguing the Iowa Supreme Court should rehear that case and make it even easier for lawmakers to restrict abortion following last Friday’s opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade.

“For far too long, flawed Court rulings at the state and federal levels have blocked many of our attempts to listen to Iowans and expand pro-life protections,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. “Iowa House Republicans’ goal is to protect the lives of the unborn. That’s why I support the governor’s decision on these legal actions as the best path forward to protect innocent life.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said he will not represent the state in this push to further restrict abortion rights.

Miller also refused to have his office defend the “fetal heartbeat” law when it was first challenged in court. His office did represent the state when it asked the Iowa Supreme Court earlier this year to overturn state-level protections for abortion rightsand uphold a 24-hour abortion waiting period.

In a statement, he said he has supported Roe v. Wade and its underlying rationale, which would be inconsistent with what the state would argue in court.

“The 24-hour case has now moved to a point in which I doubt that I can zealously assert the state’s position,” Miller said. “The question now before the Iowa Supreme Court is whether the rational basis test should apply to abortion regulations. I believe that standard would have a detrimental impact on women’s reproductive rights, health care and our society.”

Reynolds said she is hiring Alliance Defending Freedom and conservative Iowa attorney Alan Ostergren to represent the state in court “at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter