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In a major pro-life victory, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled 4-3 last week that the state’s “heartbeat law” is constitutional and dissolved a lower court’s injunction blocking the abortion ban so the state can start protecting babies. The law (House File 732) protects unborn babies from abortion after a heartbeat can be detected, at approximately six weeks of pregnancy.

In Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds, the Court’s majority reiterated its 2022 finding that there is “no fundamental right to abortion” under the state’s constitution.

In the majority opinion, Iowa Chief Justice Matthew McDermott wrote, “We concluded that nothing in the text of Iowa’s Constitution—whether in the due process clause or elsewhere— refers to or includes protection for abortion.” Chief Justice McDermott emphasized abortion became a crime in Iowa more than 100 years before Roe v. Wade and that there was nothing in the state’s history since its founding that suggested abortion was a fundamental right.

The Iowa High Court rejected Planned Parenthood’s argument that abortion restrictions violate due process and women’s rights. The Court stated that Iowa legislators have enacted a rational six-week abortion ban directly related to a “legitimate” state interest, so the law stands up to appropriate scrutiny.

“Applying our established tiers of scrutiny…we conclude that the fetal heartbeat statute is rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in protecting unborn life,” wrote Chief Justice McDermott.

The decision sends the case back to the lower court to permanently decide the case and instructs that court to use the rational basis test. Chief Justice McDermott noted that under this rational test, Planned Parenthood “cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits.”

The lower court’s injunction will remain active until the instructions from the Iowa High Court are formally received by the lower court, a process expected to take three weeks. Upon receipt, the state’s heartbeat law will take effect. Until then, abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is unclear how long the district court will take to make its final judgment in the case.

Last year, the Iowa Supreme Court tied 3-3 (one justice recused herself) preventing a previous six-week abortion ban that passed in 2018 from taking effect. In response, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds called a one-day special session of the state legislature in July 2023 to pass this new abortion ban that has now been cleared to take effect. The new “heartbeat law” has exceptions for victims of rape, incest, medical emergencies, and for fetal abnormalities incompatible with life outside the womb.

Once Iowa’s new law takes effect, the state will join Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in having active “heartbeat laws” protecting unborn life.

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Every human being in the womb has the inalienable right to life. Protecting human life is constitutional and every state should act on its ‘legitimate’ interest to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

For more information about state laws protecting unborn life, visit Liberty Counsel’s website here.

Author: Liberty Counsel


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