The United States’ most restrictive abortion ban—which Republicans in Iowa explicitly put forward with the hope of triggering a U.S. Supreme Court fight over Roe vs. Wade—was struck down by a federal judge late Tuesday, with the Polk County District Court declaring the legislation unconstitutional.
The so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill would have effectively outlawed all abortions in Iowa by banning the procedure as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detected—this happens at around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even discover they are pregnant.
“Today’s victory is essential to the rights and safety of women in Iowa,” said Rita Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa legal director. “It follows in the footsteps of the Iowa Supreme Court decision on abortion in 2018 that recognized the fundamental right to a safe and legal abortion for Iowa women, which cannot be legislated away. Today’s decision upholds women’s freedom and equality in Iowa.”
The district court issued a permanent injunction, with Judge Michael Huppert writing in his ruling (pdf), “It is undisputed that such cardiac activity is detectable well in advance of the fetus becoming viable.”
But as reproductive rights advocates have come to expect with similar rulings, anti-choice groups have vowed to appeal the decision with the goal of eventually bringing it before the U.S. Supreme Court, which currently has a right-wing majority. One state senator told reporters when the law was first passed, “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe vs. Wade—100 percent.”
“In striking down the blatantly unconstitutional Iowa abortion ban,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, Huppert “sent a message that women’s rights will not be used as political pawns in anti-choice extremists’ attempts to impose their ideology on others. Still, we know that Gov. Kim Reynolds and the anti-choice organizations that support her will stop at nothing until they eviscerate our basic human rights.”
“Today, we applaud this win for women and families everywhere, but tomorrow, we get up and fight harder than before. NARAL will always be on the frontlines fighting to protect our freedom to control our own lives,” Hogue added.
The ruling was handed down on the 46th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, as pro-choice groups like the National Abortion Federation (NAF) reminded women of the numerous anti-choice laws that have violated their constitutional rights since the 1973 ruling.