Iowa Judge Urged to Nix Fetal-Heartbeat Abortion Law

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Two clinics challenging Iowa’s new law banning abortions when a heartbeat is detected urged a state judge Friday to rule in their favor on summary judgment rather than take the case to trial.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said at Friday’s hearing that Iowa’s fetal-heartbeat law, which bans abortion in all but the earliest stages of pregnancy, is “patently unconstitutional and would gravely harm Iowa women if it is allowed to go into effect.”

In response, the state argued there are enough material facts in dispute to warrant a trial on the merits, and that the new law “does not ban one single abortion” and only requires women to seek abortions at an earlier stage of pregnancy.

After hearing about 90 minutes of arguments Friday, Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert said he would take the case under advisement and rule sometime within the next 60 days, but he told the parties to “keep your pre-trial plans in place.”

The new law restricting abortion signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds in May 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 in the nation. The new law prohibits a physician from performing an abortion “when it has been determined that the unborn child has a detectable fetal heartbeat,” or at about six weeks.

The lawsuit challenging SF 359 was filed in Polk County District Court in May by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union 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 state is represented in the case by the Thomas More Society, at no cost to taxpayers, following a decision by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, not to defend the statute.

In June, Judge Huppert temporarily enjoined enforcement of the law, which was set to take effect in July, after the parties had stipulated to a temporary injunction so the case could proceed to the merits.

In her argument for summary judgment Friday, Alice Clapman, a lawyer for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Washington, D.C., cited for support of its position a June Iowa Supreme Court ruling that the state’s abortion law mandating a 72-hour waiting period is an unconstitutional burden on women.

Writing for the majority in a 67-page opinion, Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady said, “We conclude the statute enacted by our Legislature, while intended as a reasonable regulation, violates both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution because its restrictions on women are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state.”

“Whatever the state’s authority to regulate,” Clapman said Friday in reference to that ruling, “it has no authority to ban abortion outright.”

The state argues the new law would survive strict scrutiny.

“The 72-hour provision in the prior statute failed due to narrow tailoring issues that do not appear in the heartbeat bill,” the state said in a brief filed in opposition to summary judgment. “The heartbeat bill satisfies both the compelling interest and the narrow tailoring requirements of strict scrutiny.”

Martin Cannon, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society in Chicago, focused much of his argument Friday on what he said is a factual dispute between the parties over whether the new law bans abortions at six weeks, as Planned Parenthood argues, or as late as nine weeks, as the state argues.

Cannon said the state is prepared to argue at trial that “a child with a heartbeat is a person.” He said the plaintiffs’ concern about the “burdens of carrying a child is just another way of saying children affect your life.”

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