Iowa judge blocks new ‘heartbeat’ law prohibiting abortion after six weeks

A pro-life advocate from Iowa holds a sign during the 2017 March for Life in Washington. An Iowa judge issued a preliminary injunction July 17, 2023, to temporarily block the state’s new “heartbeat” abortion ban, which prohibits most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, while a legal challenge to that law moves forward. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Tyler Orsburn)

by Kate Scanlon

(OSV News) — An Iowa judge issued a preliminary injunction July 17 temporarily blocking the state’s new “heartbeat” abortion ban, which prohibits most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, while a legal challenge to that law moves forward.

The injunction comes just days after Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law at a political conference hosted by a prominent evangelical Christian group in the state.

Reynolds signed the bill July 14 during an on-stage presentation at the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines, telling those in attendance that “all life is precious and worthy of the protection of our laws.”

The new law prohibits nearly all abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, around six weeks of pregnancy. It includes exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother, but requires a report from heath officials or law enforcement in those circumstances.

Polk County District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin’s July 17 order blocks enforcement of the law while the legal challenges play out. In the meantime, Iowa effectively reverts to its previous legal limit of abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“The court will grant the temporary injunction requested here,” Seidlin wrote. “In doing so, it recognizes that there are good, honorable and intelligent people — morally, politically and legally — on both sides of this upsetting societal and constitutional dilemma. Patience and perseverance are also hallmark traits on both sides, traits that continue to deserve respect.”

He added that the court “believes it must follow current Iowa Supreme Court precedent and preserve the status quo ante while this litigation. . . moves forward.”

In a statement, Reynolds said, “In their own words, the abortion industry stressed the need for a temporary injunction so they could continue with 200 scheduled abortions in the next two weeks.”

“While Life was protected for a few days, now even more innocent babies will be lost,” she said. “The abortion industry’s attempt to thwart the will of Iowans and the voices of their elected representatives continues today, but I will fight this all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court where we expect a decision that will finally provide justice for the unborn.”

In a statement, Dr. Abbey Hardy-Fairbanks, medical director of the Emma Goldman Clinic, said, “We are deeply relieved that the court granted this relief so essential health care in Iowa can continue.”

“We are also acutely aware that the relief is only pending further litigation and the future of abortion in Iowa remains tenuous and threatened,” Hardy-Fairbanks said.

The Iowa Catholic Conference, which supports the bill, noted in a July 17 the judge’s order allows the state board of medicine to proceed with the law’s rule-making.

Shortly after the Iowa Legislature passed the bill, but before Reynolds signed it, abortion advocates, including the Emma Goldman Clinic, filed a legal challenge July 12 in Iowa District Court for Polk County seeking the temporary injunction preventing enforcement of the law.

Reynolds had previously called the Legislature back into the special session “with the sole purpose of enacting legislation that addresses abortion and protects unborn lives” after the state Supreme Court deadlocked June 16 in a 3-3 vote leaving in place an injunction against a similar “heartbeat” law from 2018. That law prohibited abortions after a heartbeat could be detected — approximately six weeks into pregnancy — but has never been enforced.

The Iowa Catholic bishops have supported the law’s enactment stating July 13, “Human life is precious and should be protected in our laws to the greatest extent possible.”

Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told OSV News July 18 the conference is “disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.”

“We anticipate the dispute will finally end up at the Iowa Supreme Court,” Chapman said. “In the meantime we will continue to look for ways to protect and support to the greatest extent possible in Iowa law.”

About the author

OSV News

Leave a Comment