IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Reproductive rights groups sue to stop Iowa's new 6-week abortion ban

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would sign the ban Friday during a Christian conservative summit that several 2024 GOP candidates will attend.
Syndication: The Des Moines Register
Demonstrators fill the Iowa Capitol rotunda Tuesday as the Legislature convenes for a special session to pass a six-week "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban.Zach Boyden-Holmes / The Register / USA Today Network

A group of reproductive rights groups said Wednesday they had sued to stop Iowa's newly passed six-week abortion ban from going into effect.

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 — less than 12 hours after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the ban.

The suit, filed in Iowa District Court for Polk County, seeks a temporary injunction. If it is granted, the law would be blocked while the legal challenge plays out in the court system.

In a phone call with reporters, the groups filing the suit said the initial hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday local time — shortly before Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is scheduled to sign the bill. Officials with the groups said they expect the case to reach the state Supreme Court.

If it is not blocked by the court, the law would go into effect immediately after Reynolds signs it Friday afternoon at a summit hosted by a Christian conservative group, which several 2024 Republican candidates are expected to attend.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott are some of the candidates set to appear at the conference, called the Family Leadership Summit.

Reynolds’ choice of venue to sign the bill further cements the role the divisive issue will play in presidential politics in the key early-voting state. 

While polling in the state, as well as nationally, found that a majority of voters support women having the right to abortion, support for harsher abortion restrictions remains popular among conservative evangelical Christians — a key voting bloc in the state’s Republican caucuses. 

If the law were to go into effect immediately following Reynolds’ signature, it would send abortion clinics and patients in the state scrambling — an outcome the reproductive rights groups referred to in their announcement of their suit.

“If this abortion ban goes into effect, it will place an unacceptable burden on patients’ ability to access essential abortion care, especially those who already face systemic inequities,” Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement. “Hundreds of Iowans will be impacted in mere weeks. We refuse to stand idly by and will fight every step of the way to block this abortion ban and restore Iowans’ rights.” 

The bill passed late Tuesday would ban abortions at the sixth week of pregnancy. 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 abortion ban because women don’t even know they are pregnant that early.

As it currently stands, abortion remains legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy.

Passage of the bill capped a marathon one-day special legislative session that Reynolds called for what she described as the sole purpose of enacting “pro-life” legislation. She announced the session just weeks after the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing a six-week abortion ban that lawmakers had enacted in 2018 to remain permanently blocked.

While the latest 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.