Judge declares Iowa’s heartbeat bill unconstitutional

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law, described by some as the strictest in the nation although it never took effect because of a legal challenge, has been declared unconstitutional.

District Court Judge Michael Huppert of the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa overturned the law on Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide. He said the law — which prohibited abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat (as early as six weeks’ gestation) — violates a woman’s “fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy” contained in Iowa Code. The law violates both “the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that she was incredibly disappointed by the court’s ruling “because I believe that if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then a beating heart indicates life.”

“The decision was disappointing but not surprising considering last summer’s discovery by the Iowa Supreme Court that abortion is a fundamental right under Iowa’s Constitution,” said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference. “The Iowa Catholic Conference will continue its work in support of a state constitutional amendment to remedy the situation.”

He added, “It was interesting that the judge decided to release his order on the anniversary of the federal Roe v. Wade decision. That has provided renewed energy by many legislators to address the situation.”Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty, represented the state. The Chicago-based law firm agreed to do so because Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller disqualified himself from defending the new statute. Miller determined that “he could not zealously assert the state’s position because of his core belief that the statute, if upheld, would undermine the rights and protection for women.”

The pro-life law firm agreed to handle the litigation on a pro bono basis. Senior Counsel Martin Cannon said in a statement that the Thomas More Society “affirms the plain language” of Iowa’s Constitution which states that “All men are, by nature, free and equal, and have inalienable rights — among which are those of enjoying and defending life …”

Cannon said that “Despite the challenges in the Iowa judicial system, our clients and Thomas More Society attorneys will continue to defend unborn children and those who also defend them. We know that life begins at conception and a heartbeat means a living person is inside the mother’s womb.”

The America Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, as co-counsel, filed the lawsuit against the heartbeat bill on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and its medical director, Dr. Jill Meadows. Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City was a co-plaintiff in the case.

“As the district court ruled, the statute would have banned abortion well before viability. Indeed, the statute would have banned abortion at a stage in pregnancy before many women even know they are pregnant,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said in a Jan. 22 news release. The statement quoted Dr. Meadows: “Today’s ruling is a victory for every Iowan who has ever needed or will need a safe, legal abortion. At Planned Parenthood, we’re here to provide nonjudgmental support and factual, medically accurate information so that every patient can make their own personal decision about a pregnancy based on their own values, desires and needs, without political interference.”

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