Planned Parenthood Asks Court to Block 6-Week Abortion Ban in Iowa

Abortion groups filed their legal challenge to the pro-life legislation one day after lawmakers passed the bill.

Facade of the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa
Facade of the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines, Iowa (photo: Paul Brady / Shutterstock)

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and other pro-abortion groups are asking a district court to block Iowa from enforcing a six-week abortion ban that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds intends to sign into law on Friday, July 14. 

The abortion groups filed their legal challenge to the pro-life legislation on Wednesday, July 12, just one day after lawmakers passed the bill. Unless the court blocks Iowa from enforcing the law, it will go into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

“If this abortion ban goes into effect, it will place an unacceptable burden on patients’ ability to access essential abortion care, especially those who already face systemic inequities,” Ruth Richardson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement. 

“Hundreds of Iowans will be impacted in mere weeks,” Richardson added. “We refuse to stand idly by and will fight every step of the way to block this abortion ban and restore Iowans’ rights.”

The pro-abortion groups argue that the abortion law violates the state Constitution’s inalienable-rights clause. The clause guarantees that men and women are free and equal and guaranteed the rights to enjoy and defend life and liberty; acquire, possess, and protect property; and pursue and obtain safety and happiness. 

Lawmakers passed legislation that would prohibit most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy during a one-day special session on July 11. The bill passed the House 56-34 and the Senate 32-17 with support from Republican leadership and opposition from Democratic leadership.

Reynolds intends to sign the bill into law on Friday.  

“As a pro-life governor, I am … committed to continuing policies to support women in planning for motherhood, promote the importance of fatherhood, and encourage strong families,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Our state and country will be stronger because of it.” 

The new law would require a physician to perform an ultrasound on a woman who requests an abortion to see whether a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The legislation prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which normally occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy unless one of the exceptions is applicable.

Applicable exceptions include medical emergencies and fetal abnormalities that a physician believes are incompatible with life. There are also exceptions for rape and incest.

Iowa lawmakers passed the same law in 2018, but the legislation was struck down in the courts because of precedent set in Roe v. Wade. Although the landmark Supreme Court ruling was overturned in June 2022, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to take up the state’s appeal of that ruling based on the changing precedent.

Some justices cited the length of time that had passed since the previous ruling as one of the justifications for not reviewing the case. However, in a rare 3-3 decision, the judges failed to issue an opinion of the court. Although judges wrote their personal opinions on the case, they did not set any precedent because there was no majority on the court.

“The Iowa Supreme Court questioned whether this Legislature would pass the same law they did in 2018, and today they have a clear answer,” Reynolds said. “The voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer, and justice for the unborn should not be delayed.”