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Iowa abortion providers say there is no basis to enact a close ban

DES MOINES, Iowa– Lawyers for Iowa’s largest abortion provider argued in court papers Tuesday that there is no precedent or legal support to bring back a law banning most abortions, which a judge had permanently blocked in 2019.

Planned Parenthood attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa were responding in state court filings to arguments made by attorneys for the Republican governor. Kim Reynolds last month.

Reynolds argues that recent decisions by the Iowa and US Supreme Courts have changed the legal landscape, and states must individually decide whether abortion is legal. The governor says these changes justify reversing a state court judge’s decision that the abortion ban law was unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. Reynolds did not appeal the decision at the time.

The judge based his opinion on US Supreme Court precedent, as well as a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision that declared abortion a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.

The 2018 law would block abortions once heart activity can be detected, usually around six weeks into the pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant. The law contains exceptions for medical emergencies that include threats to the life of the mother, rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities.

Current Iowa law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions up to that point remain legal in the state.

ACLU attorneys argue there is no precedent for reversing a case that ended years ago. They said that in Iowa, even though the state Supreme Court struck down fundamental abortion protections in its June decision, abortion remains legal under previous court decisions that have not been overturned.

ACLU of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis Austen said the governor’s recourse should be to go back to the legislature and pass a new law instead of trying to resurrect one declared invalid years ago.

She said in court papers that if the state wants to ban six-week abortions “and believes it has the authority to do so under the Constitution, it can ask the current Iowa Legislature to pass such a law now, rather than try to do so.” revive a law that was manifestly unconstitutional and void at the time it was passed by a previous legislature.”

The judge in the case gave Reynolds’ attorneys until September 26 to file a response and set a court hearing for December 26. 28

Reynolds, who has made clear his intentions to end most abortions in Iowa, decided to go to court to impose stricter limits on abortion rather than call a special session of the legislature to pass a new law.

The strategy is likely to avoid a raucous political debate weeks before the November election, where she and Republican legislative leaders seek re-election. And abortion may not be a winning political issue for Republicans, with 60% of Iowans supporting keeping abortion legal in most or all cases, according to a July Des Moines Register Iowa poll. The results of the survey indicated that 34% were in favor of making abortion illegal in most or all cases.

A statewide vote in traditionally conservative Kansas last month was decisive in favor of abortion rights.

Laws like Iowa’s abortion ban when a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, though that doesn’t translate easily to medical science. That’s because at the point where advanced technology can detect that first visual flutter, the embryo is not yet a fetus and does not have a heart. An embryo is called a fetus eight weeks after fertilization.

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