DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday signed a six-week abortion ban into law, setting in motion a new legal battle over the future of reproductive rights in the key early presidential state, and further escalating the presence of a divisive issue in the campaign.
Surrounded by a cadre of Republican state legislators and anti-abortion leaders, Reynolds inked the measure during a special, on-stage presentation at the Family Leadership Summit — a prominent political gathering hosted by an evangelical Christian group.
"All life is precious and worthy of the protection of our laws," Reynolds said during the signing ceremony, adding that the law represents "an ironclad commitment to the smallest and most vulnerable among us."
The law went into effect the moment Reynolds signed the bill, but it could be short-lived.
Across town, at a Polk County District Court, the state judge hearing a challenge filed by a group of reproductive rights groups seeking a temporary injunction, said he would need until next week to make a ruling.
“This request requires my strong and lengthy attention,” Polk County District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin said during the hearing. A ruling is possible as early as Monday.
If the request for an emergency injunction is granted, the six-week ban would be blocked while the legal challenge plays out in the court system.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Emma Goldman Clinic, a women’s health care facility in Iowa City, filed the legal challenge in a state court Wednesday afternoon, arguing that the new ban violates the Iowa state constitution. Officials with the groups said they expect the case to reach the state Supreme Court.
Despite the legal challenge, Reynolds, as well as a parade of Republican presidential candidates, celebrated the signing and predicted that the new law would prevail.
"Our work is not done," Reynolds said. "As we gather here today at this very moment, the abortion industry is in the court trying to prevent this law from taking effect and stop, once again, the will of the people."
The measure includes exceptions for the life of the mother, miscarriages and fetal abnormalities deemed by a physician “incompatible with life.”
The bill also includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. For those exceptions to apply, the rape must have been reported to law enforcement or a “public or private health agency” — which includes a family doctor — within 45 days, and the incest must have been reported to any of those officials or entities within 140 days.
Reproductive rights advocates have said a six-week ban amounts to a total ban because many women don’t even know they are pregnant that early.
Reproductive rights groups had said that if the law went into effect immediately it would send abortion clinics and patients in the state scrambling. Officials with Planned Parenthood said clinics in the state stayed open Thursday until 10 p.m. providing care in anticipation of Friday’s signing.
Previously, abortion care was legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy.
Reynold’s choice of venue for her signing further cements the role the divisive issue of abortion rights will play in presidential politics — both in the key early-voting state and across the U.S.
In attendance at Friday's summit — moderated by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson — were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, many of whom, at various points during the conference, lauded Reynolds and her bill.
"Gov. Kim Reynolds knocked it out of the park," Haley said following the signing.
"We’re standing here on a historic day in Iowa," Pence said during a morning session, ahead of the signing. He praised Reynolds for her plan to sign "into law historic protections for the unborn."
Former President Donald Trump — who has been more reluctant to embrace strict abortion bans during the campaign than some of his rivals — skipped the event.
Even as support for stronger abortion restrictions remains popular among conservative evangelical Christians — a key voting bloc in the Iowa's Republican caucuses — polling in the state, as well as nationally, finds that a majority of voters support abortion rights.
And while aligning with a six-week ban could help a candidate in Iowa, it play out different in New Hampshire, the next contest in the 2024 primary.
The state’s libertarian-leaning GOP electorate tends to be more open on the issue; Gov. Chris Sununu, for example, is among a small list of GOP governors who support abortion rights.
Those rocky paths forward underscore the struggles that Republicans, more broadly, have endured in talking to voters about abortion rights in the year since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. Part of Democrats' success in the midterms came from their ability to successful use the abortion issue to go after Republicans.
Reynolds called a special legislative session dedicated exclusively to enacting “pro-life legislation” after the state Supreme Court issued a split decision this month that allowed a six-week abortion ban lawmakers had enacted in 2018 to remain permanently blocked.
It took Iowa Republicans, who control the Legislature, only 15-hours on Tuesday's to pass the new six-week ban.
While the new law is already facing the same type of legal challenges as the 2018 law, the outcome could be different this time around with a full state Supreme Court issuing a decision.
The court’s split ruling last month on that 2018 law was a narrowly tailored decision based largely on procedural grounds, meaning it remains possible — if not likely — that a full seven-member court could find legal consensus on a new ban. One of the court’s seven justices, Dana Oxley — a Reynolds appointee — recused herself because her former law firm represented an abortion clinic that was a plaintiff in the original case.