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Injunction fortified against restrictive Iowa abortion law

The law violates the Iowa Constitution’s “undue burden” standard, a state judge said Monday.

(CN) — A state judge Monday denied Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds' request to remove a permanent injunction that bars enforcement of a state law that would make abortions illegal after about six weeks of pregnancy.

The governor said Monday the decision will be immediately appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

“I’m very disappointed in the ruling filed today by the district court, but regardless of the outcome, this case was always going to the Iowa Supreme Court,” the governor said in a statement following the ruling. “As the Iowa and U.S. Supreme Courts have made clear, there is no fundamental right to an abortion. The decision of the people’s representatives to protect life should be honored, and I believe the court will ultimately do so. As long as I’m Governor, I will continue to fight for the sanctity of life and for the unborn.”

Critics of the so-called "Fetal Heartbeat Bill," which prohibits abortions once cardiac activity can be detetected, point out that it would bar abortions before some women are even aware they are pregnant.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, a plaintiff in the case, welcomed Monday’s decision.

“The district court’s decision is a huge win for abortion rights and bodily autonomy in Iowa,” said Planned Parenthood North Central States President and CEO Ruth Richardson. “For now, abortion remains safe and legal in the state, and Iowans will continue to have control over their ability to determine their lives and futures. Every person deserves the right to make private health care decisions, not politicians or judges. We won the battle today and we will keep pushing to protect the reproductive freedom of Iowans.”

The permanent injunction was issued in 2019 based on the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that there is a fundamental right to abortion under the Iowa Constitution. But this June, the court reversed that decision just one week before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.

With the door opened to reviving the "fetal heartbeat" law, lawyers for Governor Reynolds filed a motion asking the trial court to lift the injunction, arguing that it has the authority to modify or vacate an injunction if there has been a substantial change in the facts or law.

In her ruling Monday, Polk County District Judge Celene Gogerty reiterated jurisdictional questions she raised at an Oct. 28 hearing in Des Moines.

“Even if the court has jurisdiction to dissolve the permanent injunction, the State has failed to show that there has been a substantial change in the law,” she wrote.

The Iowa Supreme Court, in its June decision concluding there is not a fundamental right to abortion under the Iowa Constitution, stopped short of establishing a standard of review for assessing the constitutionality of abortion regulations in state law. The justices left that question for a future case, so in the meantime, Judge Gogerty wrote, the “undue burden” test previously recognized by the Iowa Supreme Court in abortion cases “remains the governing standard.”

The law would not pass that test, she wrote, and would still be unconstitutional. As a result, she said the state has failed to show a change in the law that would warrant dissolving the permanent injunction.

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