DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Two abortion providers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued Iowa on Tuesday, claiming its newly enacted fetal-heartbeat law that outlaws abortion in all but the earliest stages of pregnancy is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was filed in Polk County District Court by attorneys with the ACLU of Iowa and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Dr. Jill Meadows and the Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City.
The plaintiffs seek an expedited hearing to temporarily enjoin enforcement of the law set to go into effect July 1.
The abortion restriction signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds on May 4 was passed in the middle of the night by the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature entirely with Republican votes.
Senate File 359 has been called the strictest abortion law in the nation. It prohibits a physician from performing an abortion “when it has been determined that the unborn child has a detectable fetal heartbeat,” which happens at about six weeks.
Exceptions include cases of medical necessity in a physician’s judgment, rape that is reported within 45 days, incest reported within 140 days, or where a physician certifies a fetal abnormality that is “incompatible with life.”
The lawsuit states that the restrictions will prevent virtually all women from getting an abortion in Iowa because many women do not know they are pregnant as early as the sixth week, and only about 2 percent of the clinics’ patients terminate pregnancies before six weeks.
The plaintiffs argue that the restrictions would violate women’s rights to equal protection and due process under the Iowa Constitution.
The statute says it “shall not be construed to impose civil or criminal liability” on a woman receiving an abortion in violation of the law, but is silent on liability for physicians who perform abortion other than to say the Iowa Board of Medicine “shall adopt rules” to administer the statute.
Iowa Republicans vowed to pass what is considered the toughest abortion limit in the nation with the hope that it would be the one that gives the U.S. Supreme Court another opportunity to reverse the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
Tuesday’s lawsuit comes as little surprise.
Governor Reynolds said in a statement when she signed the bill, “I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred, and as governor, I pledged to do everything in my power to protect it.”
She added: “I understand and anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court, and that courts may even put a hold on the law until it reaches the Supreme Court. However, this is bigger than just a law. This is about life. I am not going to back down from who I am or what I believe in.”
Brenna Smith, press secretary for the governor, said in statement Tuesday, “We knew there would be a legal fight, but it’s a fight worth having to protect innocent life.”
Smith added that the state would be represented in the case by the Thomas More Society at no cost to taxpayers, a reference to a decision by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, not to defend the statute if challenged.
What backers of the fetal-heartbeat law may not have counted on was the move by plaintiffs to bring the action in state court rather than federal court, meaning the challenge to the law won’t end up before the U.S. Supreme Court because the suit citing the state constitution cannot be removed to federal court, according Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa.
Bettis said at a press conference Tuesday that the plaintiffs challenged the new law as violating the Iowa Constitution, and said it was appropriate to bring the case in state court because the “Iowa Supreme Court has been a stalwart protector of constitutional rights.”
In 2015, the state’s high court unanimously struck down rules enacted by the Iowa Board of Medicine that effectively banned the remote distribution of an abortion-inducing pill using a video conferencing system known as “telemedicine.”
Iowa is currently in court defending a 2017 abortion law that imposes a 72-hour mandatory waiting period and an additional trip requirement for women seeking an abortion.
The Iowa Supreme Court stayed enforcement of that law in October 2017 while it considers an appeal filed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa. The court heard arguments in that case in February and is expected to rule by July.