The ACLU of Iowa announced it has already filed a legal challenge to Iowa’s new Heartbeat Bill after the pro-life legislation passed Tuesday’s special legislative session. A hearing on its request for an immediate injunction has been scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Rita Bettis Austen, Legal Director of the ACLU of Iowa, called the law “deeply cruel” and noted it “callously puts the lives and health” of women at risk.
“It bans abortion before many people know that they’re pregnant and it is substantially identical to the 2018 law that was kept blocked by the Iowa Supreme Court in an order issued just weeks ago,” Austen said.
Austen noted that while the law contains some “so-called” exceptions, the vast majority of Iowans will be unable to access abortion. She said exceptions for the life of a mother and certain medical emergencies are too narrow.
“Each exception includes significant barriers to accessing care,” Austen said. “The experiences of patients and providers across the country have demonstrated that these so-called exceptions are totally unworkable. They put patients’ lives at risk and further deprive people of their reproductive freedom.”
Legal claims in the lawsuit claim the bill violates Iowans’ constitutional rights to abortion and substantive due process. The ACLU of Iowa also claims it violates the Iowa Constitution’s inalienable rights clause where it explicitly guarantees those rights equally to women.
The suit was filed in state court in Polk County District Court.
There is precedent for a legal challenge to a law before it has been signed in Iowa. The 72-hour waiting period law from 2017 with an emergency effective date passed on May 3 and the ACLU filed suit that day. It had a hearing on May 4. The district court ruled on that motion for an injunction on May 5 that was unsuccessful, which required an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, which granted an injunction on May 5.
The ACLU stressed it is not asking the court to stop the signing of the law, it is asking to stop enforcement of the law.
Peter Im, staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, noted that while the Dobbs case has impacted the legal landscape on abortion across the country, this lawsuit is brought under the Iowa Constitution and the Iowa Supreme Court has made clear the standard governing abortion restrictions is undue burden.
Im said he is confident in the claims and hopeful courts will interpret Iowa Supreme Court precedent fairly just as they did with the 2018 law.
While Im believes the main argument for this case is the constitutionality of the law under current standard, he noted the lag in creating penalties for the law will also be put before the court.
The Board of Medicine is tasked with making rules, but it hasn’t had time to promulgate those rules due to the immediate effective date of the law and the fact Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation that placed a moratorium on rule-making in January.
“Certainly those are issues for the state,” Im said.
Im added the hope is the courts understand the “urgency” of the relief. Im said the fact the suit was filed today and they received a scheduled hearing for Friday indicates the court understands it is important to hear the case quickly and rule on the case quickly.
One of the Iowa Supreme Court justices recused herself in the court’s ruling weeks ago on the 2018 Heartbeat Bill. Im said they do not know if Justice Oaxley will once again recuse herself, but said it could be a possibility.
District Judge Joseph Seidlin will preside over Friday’s hearing, Im said. Seidlin was appointed by Gov. Reynolds in November of 2018. Seidlin previously blocked a law that cut sex education funds to Planned Parenthood.