When it comes to a woman’s right to an abortion, the spotlight has recently been focused on New York. However, recently there has been an abortion war in Iowa where two battles that took place that ended in a victory for the pro-abortion activists. The first battle that took place was the fight in the Iowa legislature to stop a new restrictive abortion law from being passed. The second battle consisted of the fight that ensued in the Iowa courts after the bill was signed into law. The issuepresented to the Iowa District Court was whether an abortion law which restricts abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected would be unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution. Although anti-abortion activists won the first battle, the pro-abortion activists won the war.
The first battle took full effect in 2018 when Republicans in Iowa’s legislature used their majority to pass a bill that basically restricted abortions in Iowa after six weeks of pregnancy. Despite restricting abortion very early in a pregnancy, the Iowa legislature passedthe bill to prohibit abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected in the womb. The New “Heartbeat Bill”effectively outlawed all abortions in Iowa because experts have said that many women don’t knowthat they are pregnant six weeks into the pregnancy. However, Rep. Sandy Salmonsaid, “A baby has become something we can throw away. This bill says that it’s time to change the way we think about unborn life.”
Elected representatives worked tirelessly in the first week of May in 2018 to debate the new bill.
After the debates concluded, the Republican majority in the Iowa legislature came out ahead,thus giving way to the Governor’s signature. Governor Kim Reynolds, surrounded by students on each side, signed the new bill into law with a huge smile on her face saying, “I understand that not everyone will agree with this decision, but if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life?” The bill was signed into law on May 4th, 2018 and was to take effect July 1stof the same year. Interestingly, there was speculationthat the passing of this law was part of a plan to spark renewed controversy over the issue of abortion in the United States Supreme Court. Proponentsof the heartbeat bill have admitted to multiple news outlets that they were well aware that there was likely going to be a long court battle.
However, the only court battle that took place was in Iowa District Court. Judge Michael Huppert, a state judge in Iowa, struck down the new law as unconstitutional. In Iowa, the state District Court Judges have authorityto hear cases of this manner as long as standing is established. Judge Michael Huppert was aware that back in 2017, the Iowa Supreme Court had ruled in a 5-2 decision that women had a right to an abortion when they tossed out a proposed 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. The lawsuit in that case revolved around a suit brought by Planned Parenthood who alleged that the 72-hour waiting period was a denial of due process and equal protection under the Iowa State Constitution. Under that law, a woman had to wait 72 hours after her initial appointment. While at the appointment, the woman would have to be given the opportunity to view the ultrasound and be told her various options, including adoption. Unfortunately for the Republican-controlled state legislature, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Planned Parenthood when they handed down their decision.
In their decisions, the Iowa Supreme Court held that although the regulation as proposed by elected officials was a reasonable regulation, it was a violationof a woman’s equal protection and due process rights under the Iowa Constitution. Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court further wrote in the majority’s opinion that the law was not narrowly tailored enough to serve a compelling interest of the state by requiring such a waiting period. Mark Kende, a law professor at Drake University, said that this ruling was the strongest finding for a woman’s right to an abortion in Iowa. The ruling made by Iowa’s Supreme Court relied on the fact that the waiting period would force women with fewer means to travel long distances twiceto obtain an abortion. Also, Planned Parenthoodstated that they already deny abortions to those women who are on the fence about the procedure anyway.
Judge Michael Huppert, in his decisionon January of 2019, referred to the Iowa Supreme Court decision regarding the 72-hour wait period requirement. He also cited several FederalCourt cases from the 8thCircuit, which is also the circuit that Iowa is part of, that ruled restriction laws on abortion were unconstitutional. He made it very clear that a heartbeatcan be detected long before a fetus reaches viability. Applying the ruling in the previous Iowa Supreme Court, Judge Huppert could see no way to find the “heartbeat bill” as constitutional when it would inevitably dampen the ability for any woman to obtain an abortion procedure. If a law that simply requires a wait period of 72 hours was ruled as unconstitutional, then how could a law that would render almost all abortions as illegal be constitutional? Again, just like the Iowa Supreme Court, the Judge Huppert went on to say that the law was not narrowlytailored enough to serve a compelling government interest.
Like the new abortion law in New York, the ruling by Judge Huppert was revealed on the 46thanniversaryof the Roe v. Wade decision from 1973. An important fact to note on the events in Iowa is that Judge Huppert did not even let the case go to trial. In other words, the case was decidedbefore a trial was even conducted. Governor Reynolds’ disdain for a lack of trial was evidencedwhen she stated, “He didn’t even let it go to trial so that an unborn baby could be defended in court.” Planned Parenthood was very clear that they would continue to fight Iowa’s elected representatives in the state legislature and standup for women’s rights—no matter what. Planned Parenthood advocates saw the new law as an encroachmenton a woman’s right to care for her body by forcing her into motherhood. Apparently, they were able to make a compelling argument without needing a trial.
Given the circumstances of the decision handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court, Governor Reynolds has decided not to pursue an appeal processto the Iowa Appellate Courts on the “heartbeat” bill. Recognizing that an appeal would likely be unsuccessful, she decided that it would be nothing but a distraction that would drain her and others. Although Gov. Reynolds’ decision not to pursue an appeal was met with disparity, many state legislatures have agreed to trusther judgement on the issue and let it be.
Not long ago, in November of 2018, a similar bill that was passed and signed into law inMississippiwas struck down as well. However, Ohio and Kentucky are now considering bills similar to Iowa’s. The United States is a vast and diverse country that has separate court systems in each state. With that in mind, the jurisdictional challenges in each jurisdiction could be vastly different from state to state. However, since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, the ability to unreasonably regulate abortions outside of the framework in Planned Parenthood v. Caseyhas greatly diminished if not become obsolete. Time restraints and fetal heartbeats have been denied as two methods for anti-abortion activists to regulate abortion. The only thing left for regulation is viability under Casey.
Whether someone thinks that abortion is right or wrong is still not the question at issue here. What people believe and hold to themselves as true is entirely their right under the laws of the United States. Further, the United States was created by people who thought that the laws of the land should reflect the hearts of the people that make up the sovereignty of a nation. What you would supposedly have is a nation built by the people and for the people. With that excerpt from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in mind, it is interesting that an appointed Judge in Iowa could rulethat a law created by the duly elected officials of Iowa is unconstitutional.
However, mobrule was also at the forefront of the Founding Fathers’ minds as well as a new nation made by the people, for the people. Judge’s like Judge Michael Huppert and Justice Cady exist for the sole purpose of keeping order in society. Without neutral court systems that interpret the law consistently with the highest court of the land, maybe there would be bigger issues for our nation to deal with. Whether these observations are true is not the issue in Iowa. To prove that a heartbeat should be a good gauge as to whether an abortion should be carried out is the issue here. However, it’s not truly a heart issue, but instead a viability issue. Whether a heartbeat determines viability was the real question posed to the District Court. Judge Huppert aptly came down on the issue which proves that the heartbeat of the American Judiciary is beating loud and strong.