ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood file lawsuit challenging Iowa's heartbeat abortion law

    Rita Bettis, ACLU Iowa's legal director, announces a lawsuit challenging Iowa's new abortion bill, which is the strictest in the United States. The law signed earlier this month bans abortions after a heartbeat can be detected, or about six weeks after conception. (Photo: Caroline Cummings)

    The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland have officially filed a lawsuit challenging Iowa's new law that bans abortions after a heartbeat can be detected, which is the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.

    The Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, one of the first in the state to perform abortions, also joined the lawsuit.

    The three organizations contend that the law is undoubtedly unconstitutional, banning virtually all abortions in Iowa as many women are not even aware they are pregnant when a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.

    "We moved quickly to challenge this cruel and reckless law because it cannot be allowed to take effect," said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis at a news conference in Des Moines Tuesday, announcing the lawsuit had been formally filed.

    The lawsuit names Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Board of Medicine as defendants, according to the three organizations that will be co-plantiffs in the case.

    The law says doctors cannot perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, with some exceptions some exceptions for victims of rape and incest and if a woman's health is in jeopardy.

    The ACLU is asking for a temporary injunction, which would put a hold on the law set to take effect July 1, while the case is litigated, a process that could take years to sort out.

    "Planned Parenthood is challenging this law because the Iowa Constitution is clear: a woman has the right to access a safe and legal abortion," said Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

    Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is a Democrat, announced he would not defend the law because it would "undermine rights and protections for women," according to a letter his office sent to the state executive council.

    In the letter, his office recommends Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm in Chicago to represent the state in the case, citing the firm has agreed to defend the law for free.

    During legislative debate over the bill, supporters did not shy away from sharing they hope the law sets the stage to challenge Roe v. Wade at the federal level.

    But Bettis contends that because the lawsuit only cites Iowa's Constitution, the state has to be the arbiter in the case, ultimately "foreclosing" any option to federally appeal or pave the way to challenge Roe vs. Wade.

    Reynolds and Republican supporters of the bill were all but certain the controversial law would face a court challenge.

    "I understand and I anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court," Reynolds said the day she signed the bill. "However, this is bigger than just a law; this is about life. I am not going to back down from who I am or what I believe in."

    Similar laws in Arkansas and North Dakota have been struck down by the courts.

    "In the 45 years since Roe vs. Wade, no court, state or federal, has ever upheld such a ban," Bettis said.

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