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Groups File Lawsuit to Block Newly Passed 6-Week Abortion Ban in Iowa

“This law is deeply cruel and callously puts the lives and health of Iowans at risk,” a spokesperson for the ACLU said.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a campaign event at Dahl Auto Museum on October 31, 2020, in Davenport, Iowa.

Less than one day after the Republican-controlled Iowa state legislature passed a six-week abortion ban, lawyers from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the Emma Goldman Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa filed a lawsuit on behalf of clinicians and reproductive health care specialists in the state to block the ban from being signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

On Tuesday, in a 15-hour marathon special session called by Renyolds, the legislature fast-tracked an abortion ban that prohibits the procedure after embryonic or fetal cardiac activity is detected, which occurs around the six-week mark of a pregnancy. Medical experts widely agree that this is an improper measure for determining whether or not to have an abortion — and that the term “heartbeat bills,” which is often used to refer to such bans, is unscientific and purposefully misleading.

Reynolds ordered the special session due to a judicial block on another six-week statewide abortion ban. A state court had placed an injunction on that law, and the state Supreme Court, hearing an appeal on that order, deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, keeping the block in place.

Reynolds intends to sign the bill into law as soon as this week. The new six-week ban will go into effect immediately after, rendering the old law moot.

Within the lawsuit brought forward by those opposed to the new bill, the litigants note that it took less than two-thirds of a full day to pass the measure — “less than the twenty-four hours that Iowa law requires patients to wait before having an abortion,” they wrote.

The new bill is incredibly burdensome, banning abortions at a stage of pregnancy when “many people do not yet know they are pregnant,” the lawsuit notes.

The bill also imperils those who “may not have had time to make a decision about whether to have an abortion, research their options, and schedule appointments at a health center,” the lawsuit goes on, “not to mention overcoming the logistical and financial obstacles required to travel to a health center for an abortion.”

In creating such obstacles, the lawsuit claims, the new bill violates a precedent established by the state Supreme Court, which requires abortion laws passed by the legislature to pass an “undue burden” test. That standard (which persists, at least for the time being, even after the U.S. Supreme Court upended federal abortion rights protections) bars any such laws from creating excessive burdens on individuals seeking the procedure.

“The Act blatantly violates the Iowa Constitution,” the lawsuit states. “This case is squarely controlled by precedent from the Iowa Supreme Court holding that abortion restrictions must be evaluated under the undue burden standard.”

“Every single court that has considered a pre-viability abortion ban under an undue burden standard has concluded that the ban is unconstitutional,” the lawsuit added.

Spokespersons for the groups involved in the lawsuit reiterated that the new bill would be unconstitutional, should Reynolds sign it into law.

“We believe that the Iowa Supreme Court has been clear that undue burden is the governing standard and so that means that this law is absolutely unconstitutional under the Iowa constitution,” said Peter Im, an attorney for Planned Parenthood.

Rita Bettis Austen, the legal director for ACLU of Iowa, agreed.

“This law is deeply cruel and callously puts the lives and health of Iowans at risk,” Austen said. “It’s appalling that our legislature has passed, and the governor is going to sign, a nearly identical abortion ban to the one permanently blocked by the courts.”

Most Iowans are likely opposed to the measure, as polling from earlier this year has demonstrated that 61 percent of residents in the state believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Only 35 percent held the opposing view.

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