On Friday, Iowa’s Republican governor signed a strict new abortion ban into law. And for three days, most abortions in Iowa were illegal past six weeks of pregnancy. Until Monday afternoon, when a district judge put the ban on hold.
Joseph Seidlin, a district court judge in Polk County, said that the new ban would be suspended while the larger legal case against it moved forward. He said in his ruling that the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against the ban, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, were likely to succeed on the merits of their case.
That means that abortion in Iowa is once again legal up to around 22 weeks of pregnancy, at least for now.
“We are deeply relieved that the court granted this relief so essential health care in Iowa can continue,’’ said Dr. Abbey Hardy-Fairbanks, medical director of the Emma Goldman Clinic, one of the plaintiffs. “We are also acutely aware that the relief is only pending further litigation and the future of abortion in Iowa remains tenuous and threatened.”
The legal whiplash is the latest turn in the conservative state’s yearslong struggle to restrict the procedure. At least a dozen Republican states have banned or severely restricted abortion since the United States Supreme Court ruled last year that it was not protected in the Constitution.
in 2018, Iowa legislators passed a six-week ban that was challenged in court, and could not be enforced when the State Supreme Court deadlocked over it in June. The governor, Kim Reynolds, called a special session to pass another ban, which the Legislature did this month.
“The abortion industry’s attempt to thwart the will of Iowans and the voices of their elected representatives continues today, but I will fight this all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court where we expect a decision that will finally provide justice for the unborn,” Governor Reynolds said on Monday.
In his ruling, Judge Seidlin said that he chose to preserve the status quo set by the Iowa Supreme Court when it deadlocked on the previous ban, and called the new bill “virtually identical” to the one passed in 2018.
“There are good, honorable and intelligent people — morally, politically and legally — on both sides of this upsetting societal and constitutional dilemma,” he wrote in his ruling.
Iowa Democrats said the decision, though not the final word on the case, was a win.
“Iowans support and deserve their fundamental right to make health care decisions about their own bodies,” said Representative Jennifer Konfrst, the Democratic minority leader of the House.
The measure passed last week by Republicans allows for abortions until there is a “detectable fetal heartbeat” — a term that medical groups dispute, but that those against abortion say occurs at roughly six weeks of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant. Iowa providers and abortion-rights advocates filed suit within hours of the Legislature’s passage, saying it was unconstitutional under the standard of “undue burden.”
The legislation includes exceptions after that point in cases of rape or incest, when the woman’s life is in serious danger or she faces a risk of certain permanent injuries, or when fetal abnormalities “incompatible with life” are present.