Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” law, the most restrictive abortion ban in the United States, was declared unconstitutional Tuesday, as it violates the Iowa state constitution, a state judge ruled.
Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the restriction in May 2018, outlawing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks and before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
In the ruling, posted online, District Court Judge Michael Huppert wrote, “It is undisputed that such cardiac activity is detectable well in advance of the fetus becoming viable.”
A fetus that is viable outside the womb, usually at 24 weeks, is widely considered the threshold in the United States to prohibit an abortion.
The district court decision is a victory for supporters of abortion rights, but abortion opponents have vowed to take the fight to Iowa’s appellate courts, the Des Moines Register and other media reported.
The legislation is aimed at triggering a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision which established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion, activists on both sides of the issue previously told Reuters.
Iowa state Sen. Janet Petersen of Des Moines, the Democrats’ leader in the Iowa Senate, praised the ruling.
“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,” she told the Register. “The governor and legislative Republicans should stop attacking women’s health care.”
Proponents of the law had expected a long court fight.
The ultimate goal, abortion opponents have told multiple media outlets, is to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has become more conservative under President Donald Trump.
When the Iowa law was first passed, Republican state senator Rick Bertand of Sioux City told Reuters, “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade – 100 percent.”
(Editing by Nick Macfie)
Judge Michael Huppert wrote that the measure was counter to “both the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life.” Huppert also cited several cases in federal court, including decisions in 2015 and 2016 in the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, indicating that such laws were unconstitutional.
The legal challenge by abortion providers Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Emma Goldman Clinic kept the law from taking effect last July.
Fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, making the Iowa law the most restrictive anti-abortion measure in the U.S.
Republican Rep. Sandy Salmon, the main sponsor of the bill in the House, was disappointed the judge ended the case before it could be tried before a jury.
“He didn’t even let it go to trial so that an unborn baby could be defended in court,” she said.
She said she hopes the state appeals the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court and she suspects Republicans will work on further legislation “to make corrections to what the courts have done.”
Erin Davison-Rippey, Planned Parenthood’s State Executive Director of Iowa, said the law was Reynolds’ “egregious attempt to ban safe, legal abortions in Iowa.”
“Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up for Iowa women and fight back against the Legislature’s attacks on reproductive health. We will do all we can to make sure abortion continues to be safe and legal in our state — no matter what,” she said.
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen said the decision sends a strong message to Iowa women that their constitutional rights are important, and that they, not politicians, should be making their health care decisions.
“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,” she said.
The providers argued in court in December that the law is “blatantly unconstitutional under clear Iowa law.” Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman said courts in several states that recognize abortion as a fundamental right — including North Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi — have dismissed similar abortion bans before trial.
The Iowa Supreme Court in June struck down an earlier law that required a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, ruling that the restriction was unconstitutional and that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.”
Attorney Martin Cannon argued for the state that the bill is extremely narrow in focus by saying a beating heart signifies life in a fetus and that human life must be protected once an abdominal ultrasound identifies the heartbeat rhythm.
He didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment.
Cannon said the bill does not prevent an abortion but pushes women to get one sooner in the pregnancy. He argued there are too many disputed issues to be heard at trial and the judge should not end the lawsuit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.