Lawsuit seeks to block ‘fetal heartbeat’ law

DES MOINES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and two abortion providers have filed a lawsuit challenging the fetal heartbeat bill the Iowa legislature passed Tuesday in a special session.

Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Central States, said hundreds of Iowans could be impacted when the governor signs the bill Friday, because it immediately goes into effect.

“Everyone deserves the right to control their bodies and their futures,” Richardson said during an online news conference organized by the ACLU of Iowa. “Personal medical decisions should not be made by politicians.”

The bill bars doctors from performing abortions after an ultrasound detects cardiac activity, which happens around the sixth week of a pregnancy. Governor Reynolds is scheduled to sign the bill into law at 2:15 Friday afternoon. A Polk County district court judge has scheduled a hearing earlier, at 1:30 Friday afternoon, to hear the arguments over a temporary injunction that would block enforcement of the law. If the law does go into effect Friday, Planned Parenthood officials say they will abide by the new abortion restrictions and are prepared to refer patients to other clinics.

“We would anticipate that Minnesota would be option. Nebraska is also an option and other states,” Richardson told reporters. “…There are a network of abortion navigators throughout the U.S. who are standing by to do this work and continue to do it in a really chaotic environment where there are constatnt shifts and changes.”

Planned Parenthood’s Iowa clinics and the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City had appointments for 200 patients this week and next week. Peter Im, staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, confirmed the bill also limits the availability of medication abortions.

“Currently the law hasn’t taken effect and if the law is blocked, then medication abortion will remain available through 11 weeks and zero days, which is the evidence based practice,” Im said. “Of course, if the law does go into effect then medical abortion, the availability of it, will be limited to approximately six weeks of gestational age.”

The bill lists exceptions rape and incest as well as serious medical conditions, but Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said the experience in other states with similar abortion restrictions shows the details are unworkable.

“The reality is that the vast majority of Iowans will be unable to access abortion,” Bettis Austen said.

The same groups filed a lawsuit that successfully blocked a similar law passed in 2018 from taking effect.

Governor Reynolds said in a written statement that the voices of Iowans and their elected representatives “cannot be ignored any longer and justice for the unborn should not be delayed.”

Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver called the lawsuit disappointing, but he expressed confidence the law will ultimately be ruled constitutional. “The Iowa Supreme Court has never ruled on the merits of this law that was first enacted in 2018. Last month the Supreme Court requested the legislature to pass the law again. We clearly and unmistakably reflected the will of the Legislature by doing so and demonstrated the Legislature does not pass ‘hypothetical laws.’ As such, I am optimistic the Supreme Court will finally rule on the merits and find the Heartbeat Bill constitutional,” Whitver said in a written statement.