Iowa seeks to revive 'heartbeat' law after Supreme Court abortion ruling

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The Iowa state capitol building is pictured in Des Moines, Iowa. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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  • Governor Reynolds says recent rulings allow for stringent ban, waiting period law
  • Democratic attorney general withdraws from litigation

(Reuters) - Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that the state would seek to revive a law prohibiting abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which was blocked by a court in 2019, after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned its longstanding precedents guaranteeing abortion rights.

Reynolds, a Republican, also said she would ask the state's Supreme Court to issue a broader, more definitive ruling upholding a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before an initial appointment to get an abortion. The court revived the law earlier this month but had left it open to further challenges.

Planned Parenthood, which had sued to block both laws, said in a statement that abortion currently remains legal in the state. Spokesperson Sheena Dooley said Reynolds’s actions put Iowa on a “dangerous path.”

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Also on Tuesday, the state's elected Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller said he was withdrawing from the waiting period case, saying it "has now moved to a point in which I doubt that I can zealously assert the state's position." Miller, a public supporter of abortion rights, had similarly withdrawn from defending the heartbeat law in 2018.

Reynolds said the state would be represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative Christian legal group, as well as Alan Ostergren, president of the Iowa-based Kirkwood Institute, another conservative legal group.

A fetal heartbeat is usually detected at around six weeks of pregnancy, which made Iowa's law the most restrictive in the country when it was passed in 2018, though other states have since banned abortion after six weeks or earlier.

In 2019, a state court judge blocked the law, citing a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution included a "fundamental right" to abortion. A state court blocked the 24-hour waiting period law on the basis of that fundamental right as well.

On June 17, however, the state Supreme Court, which now includes four judges appointed by Reynolds since 2018, ruled 5-2 that there was no fundamental right to abortion, reviving the waiting period law.

The ruling, however, left open the possibility that Planned Parenthood could challenge the law for imposing an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions, a standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

But the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling last week overturned Casey in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, along with its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that first guaranteed a right to abortion until fetal viability. Reynolds said the state's top court should revisit the waiting period law in light of that ruling.

The waiting period case is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Inc v. Reynolds, Iowa Supreme Court, No. 21-0856.

The fetal heartbeat case is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Inc v. Reynolds, Iowa District Court for Polk County, No. EQCE 83074.

For Planned Parenthood: Rita Bettis Austen of American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Foundation

For the state: Alliance Defending Freedom and Alan Ostergren of the Kirkwood Institute

Read more:

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ends constitutional right to abortion

Iowa top court rejects right to abortion, revives waiting period law

Iowa's 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban ruled unconstitutional

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at