In a recent development, a district judge in Iowa has provisionally suspended the state’s new law that would have prohibited abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. As a result, abortions in Iowa will continue to be legal up to 22 weeks into pregnancy until a final court decision is reached.
The legal action was initiated by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the Emma Goldman Clinic, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. These organizations swiftly responded after the bill was forwarded to Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, to prevent it from being immediately implemented upon her approval.
The law, known as Senate File 579, is now on hold. However, the court has permitted Iowa’s board of medicine to start formulating guidelines on the penalties physicians would face for violating the law. The law was signed by Governor Reynolds last Friday after she convened a special legislative session specifically to limit the procedure in the state.
Senate File 579 seeks to prevent physicians from performing most abortions once early cardiac activity is detected in a fetus or embryo, typically around six weeks into pregnancy. This is often before many women realize they are pregnant. The law does provide exceptions for miscarriages, life-threatening situations for the pregnant woman, fetal abnormalities leading to the infant’s death, and pregnancies resulting from reported rapes within 45 days and incest within 140 days.
The law explicitly states that it does not impose civil or criminal liability on a woman who undergoes an abortion in violation of the law. However, the guidelines for penalizing physicians who violate the law are left to the discretion of Iowa’s board of medicine, leading to potential ambiguity in the law’s enforcement.
This temporary injunction marks another setback for Republican efforts to impose abortion restrictions in the state. Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court refused to lift a block on the state’s 2018 six-week abortion ban, resulting in a 3-3 stalemate over whether to overturn a lower court’s decision that declared the law unconstitutional.
The new bill closely resembles its 2018 counterpart, although the latter was not immediately enacted, allowing the board of medicine time to determine how it would enforce the law.
Legal advocacy groups have jointly stated that the new law “infringes upon Iowans’ constitutional rights to abortion and substantive due process.” Francine Thompson, executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic, expressed her dismay last week, stating, “We are appalled and disappointed that the Iowa Legislature and the governor are playing doctor by inserting themselves into exam rooms where they don’t belong.”
The outcomes of other legal challenges to abortion restrictions have varied. A judge in South Carolina temporarily blocked the state’s six-week ban in May, while a North Carolina judge allowed her state’s 12-week ban to take effect last month.