DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – An Iowa judge denied an anti-abortion group’s motion to intervene in a lawsuit brought by two abortion providers who argue the state’s new fetal-heartbeat law is unconstitutional.
Planned Parenthood and an Iowa City-based abortion clinic sued the state in May in an effort to block a new law that outlaws abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can happen at about six weeks into a pregnancy, making it one of the strictest anti-abortion statutes in the nation. Enforcement of the law is on hold following a temporary injunction while the case proceeds in court.
A Michigan-based pro-life organization called Save The 1 filed a motion in June to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing Iowa’s law contains too many exceptions by not applying to cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality. The clinics opposed the motion to intervene.
Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert denied the motion Wednesday, finding that Save The 1 did not meet the test established in Iowa’s rules of civil procedure to intervene either permissively or as a matter of right.
“As best as the court can discern, Save the 1 is comprised of members who have either become pregnant or have been the result of a pregnancy arising from rape, incest or trafficking, and who would prefer that there be no rape, incest or fetal abnormality exceptions in any abortion-related legislation,” Huppert wrote in the seven-page ruling.
“Although heartfelt, such a goal rises no higher than the ‘mere interest or desire’ in the subject matter of pending litigation that has been found to be lacking as grounds for intervention as a matter of right,” he added.
Nor should the group be allowed to intervene permissively, in part because its claims go beyond the issues raised by the plaintiffs in their lawsuit, Huppert wrote, which “would almost necessarily delay the pending litigation and prejudice the rights of the existing parties, especially the respondents.”
Besides, the judge pointed out that the defendants – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and the state Board of Medicine – may have to retain new legal counsel.
They are represented by the Thomas More Society, which stepped in to defend the state after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said he would not defend the restrictive abortion law.
Judge Huppert said the Thomas More Society, which has represented Save The 1 in the past, would be conflicted “should they remain in the case in a position adverse to the proposed intervenor.”
Even if Save the 1 is willing to waive any such conflict, Huppert said the state defendants “have not shown an interest in doing so.”
The lawsuit was filed in June by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Emma Goldman Clinic and Jill Meadows, M.D., its medical director. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
Save The 1 says it has more than 600 members who conceived or were conceived as a result of rape, incest or sex trafficking, and it believes Iowa’s abortion exceptions violate the federal and state constitutions.
ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis said in a statement Thursday that the group was “very pleased” with the ruling.
“Save the 1 sought to eliminate the exceptions in the 6 week ban. We opposed that effort, because the Iowa Constitution protects the right of all women in Iowa to access safe and legal abortion,” Bettis said. “Today, the court appropriately recognized that Save the 1’s arguments to compel survivors of rape to carry their pregnancy to term were directly contrary to our case. With this motion out of the way, we are now looking forward to the next stages in our case to get the 6 week ban on abortion in Iowa struck down for good.”
Rebecca Kiessling, a Detroit attorney and president of Save The 1, said in a video on its Facebook page that the organization would take its case to federal court if the state court denied its motion to intervene.
“We really want this case ultimately to end up in federal court anyway,” Kiessling said, “because it’ll have a greater chance of surviving. Right now the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that there is a right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution. So [the fetal-heartbeat case] is going to be dead if it doesn’t come to federal court with us.”