Arguments to unblock Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” law begin Friday

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ allies are due in court Friday asking a judge to reinstate the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law in light of recent U.S. and Iowa Supreme Court decisions overturning constitutional protections for abortion.

The contentious case is progressing ahead of the midterm elections as Democrats work to capitalize on most voters’ reluctance to tighten abortion restrictions.

The Republican governor is seeking to reverse a 2019 Iowa Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds. The previous decision blocked enforcement of a state law that would make most abortions illegal after detecting a fetal heartbeat, which occurs about six weeks after conception. The law provides exceptions for rape, incest, and saving the mother’s life.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization, is representing Reynolds in the lawsuit. Lawyers for the organization said decisions by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court, which found that access to abortion was not a constitutionally protected right, changed the law “so significantly” that the law should go into effect.

ADF leaders will argue in the Polk County District Court that Iowa has “the best interest” in enforcing the law.

“Pro-life laws like Iowa’s Fetal Heartbeat Act not only protect the lives of countless innocent unborn children, but also protect the dignity and health of women — and provide real support and health care at a vulnerable time,” Denise Harle, director of Das ADF Center for Life said in a press release on Thursday. “We are pleased to join Governor Reynolds in defending Iowa’s Fetal Heartbeat Act as we continue our vital efforts to advance life-affirming laws for mothers and children.”

Democrats claim more abortion restrictions are on the horizon

The hearings will take place shortly before the midterm elections on November 8th. Democrats warned Thursday that Republicans will push for more abortion restrictions if they retain control of the Iowa state government.

Gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear speaks at an Iowa Democratic Party news conference on the upcoming Iowa abortion law trial in Des Moines Thursday, October 27. (Screenshot from Iowa Democratic Party livestream)

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said during a news conference that Republicans “will not stop” at the six-week ban if the injunction is lifted. Some Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House voted against exceptions to the fetal heartbeat law, she said, in addition to voting against access to birth control.

“We have these voices, we know what they want to do,” said Konfrst. “So what is happening in this hearing is the first step towards a total abortion ban and it is simply unacceptable.”

Reynolds did not reconvene the legislature for a special session to pass further abortion restrictions after the court decisions. While some states have enacted more abortion restrictions since the Roe v. Wade overturned this summer, Reynolds has stuck with the trials against laws already passed in Iowa to limit access to the trial.

But Democrat Deidre DeJear, who is challenging Reynolds in November’s election, said the governor is “causing women harm” by taking the abortion cases to court.

“I want people to understand that she’s responsible for where we are in those moments,” DeJear said. “The fact that she’s pushing laws that Iowans aren’t uplifting, the fact that she’s pushing laws that don’t add value to our communities, but do harm.”

Reynolds did not clarify during a recent debate whether she would support further restrictions on abortion in the future. She said her focus this year is on the trials.

“If it goes through the courts, I’m not going to weigh in any way,” Reynolds said. “But my goal is to make sure we make the law that’s on the books.”

One of the speakers at the Democrats’ press conference was a woman, identified only as Clara, who said she lost her child when she was five months pregnant. Doctors performed a cesarean section to save her and the fetus from a bacterial infection that caused her organs to fail. While she was recovering from a five-day coma, the baby did not survive.

Doctors later told her that if she became pregnant again she would be at great risk of losing both the child she was carrying and her own life.

“If I got pregnant tomorrow, I would demand an abortion to protect my life,” she said.

Thanking the woman for sharing her story, DeJear said it shows how Republicans’ “black-and-white” view of abortion fails to consider the medical complications in many situations in which people seek an abortion. Laws restricting abortion could prevent women from receiving care that could save their lives, she said.

“This is life and death for Iowans, who are hardworking people who have raised families who have children,” DeJear said.

The gubernatorial candidate also said most Iowans do not support abortion restrictions. An October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll found that 61% of Iowans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. The poll also found that 85% of Iowans believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, and 89% believe abortion should be legal when the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

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