An Iowa judge has temporarily halted the implementation of the state’s recently passed abortion ban, which sought to outlaw most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. This decision comes just days after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law.
With this ruling, abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy while the courts assess the constitutionality of the new law. The legislation prohibits almost all abortions once cardiac activity can be detected, typically occurring at around six weeks of pregnancy, often before many women realize they are pregnant.
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the measure during a rare, all-day special session last week. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, Planned Parenthood North Central States, and the Emma Goldman Clinic promptly filed a legal challenge in response. Judge Joseph Seidlin held a hearing on the matter last Friday but opted to take the issue under advisement, coinciding with Reynolds’ signing of the bill into law nearby.
Anticipating this development, abortion providers worked diligently last week to accommodate as many appointments as possible. In preparation for the uncertain situation, hundreds of calls were made to inform patients. Clinics even extended their hours of operation.
Governor Reynolds wasted no time expressing her determination to defend the ban in court. In a statement, she highlighted her commitment to upholding the will of Iowans and their elected representatives.
While the ruling temporarily suspends the implementation of the ban, it also directs the state’s Board of Medicine to continue developing enforcement regulations as outlined in the law. This way, healthcare providers will have clear guidance if the law were to take effect in the future.
Limited Circumstances for Abortion
There are limited circumstances under the law that would allow for abortion after the point in a pregnancy where cardiac activity is detected. These circumstances include cases of rape, if reported to law enforcement or a health provider within 45 days, incest, if reported within 145 days, fetal abnormalities incompatible with life, or if the pregnancy endangers the life of the pregnant woman.
The “Undue Burden” Test
Judge Seidlin’s ruling today takes into consideration the “undue burden” test, an intermediate level of scrutiny that requires laws to not create significant obstacles to abortion. The state Supreme Court has ruled that the undue burden remains in effect “with an invitation to litigate the issue further.” This ruling opens the path for further legal challenges.
Violation of Constitutional Rights
Applying the “undue burden” standard, Judge Seidlin agrees with abortion advocates that the new law violates Iowans’ constitutional rights. As a result, he has granted a temporary block on the law. Lawyers for the state argue that the law should be analyzed using rational basis review, the lowest level of scrutiny for legal challenges.
Relief and Uncertainty
Abbey Hardy-Fairbanks, medical director of the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, expresses relief that essential healthcare in Iowa can continue. However, she emphasizes that this relief is only temporary pending further litigation. The future of abortion in Iowa remains uncertain and threatened.
Limited Abortion Access in Republican-led States
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Republican-led states have significantly limited abortion access. More than a dozen states have implemented bans with limited exceptions, including Georgia which bans abortion after cardiac activity is detected. Similar restrictions in several other states are also on hold pending court rulings, as is currently the case in Iowa.