DES MOINES — On May 4, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a restrictive “fetal heartbeat” bill into law, and abortion rights advocates vowed they would see her in court to challenge the changes.
Tuesday, they made good on that promise.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City will challenge the constitutionality of Senate File 359, a measure slated to take effect July 1 that would ban most abortions in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected — normally around six weeks of pregnancy.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Polk County District Court.
“This abortion ban is beyond extreme,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director, in a media release. “In the 45 years since (Roe v. Wade), no federal or state court has upheld such a dangerous law.”
The legislation would require doctors to conduct an abdominal ultrasound to test for a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected, a physician cannot perform an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality. It does not specify criminal or civil penalties for those breaking the law. Earlier versions had called for felony charges against doctors, but not women seeking an abortion.
Critics of the bill argued it was poorly written with vague language creating uncertainty for doctors making medical decisions in the best interests of their patients and would not pass constitutional muster. Furthermore, they argued, the measure was offered only as a way to get the abortion issue back before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I believe this bill will be a vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Rick Bertrand, a Republican state senator from Sioux City, said in a previous interview.
Iowa Gov Kim Reynolds said the state will use outside counsel in the challenge to the fetal heartbeat law. She said it would be at no cost to taxpayers.
Reynolds talked to reporters in Davenport Tuesday after a Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon. She would not identify who was being retained, but she said a couple of offers have been made to represent the state. Her office later said the state would be represented by the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has defended prominent religious leaders and causes.
Asked about retaining a firm that's not on the state payroll, Reynolds said she's comfortable with it.
“We feel very confident moving forward with it," Reynolds said. "And so it’s important that, first of all, this is about life; it’s about protecting life, and that’s first and foremost the priority, and we have somebody that has agreed to represent us and do it at no cost to the taxpayers.”