DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa ban on most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy was signed into law Friday, forcing clinics to scramble to arrange out-of-state care for many women whose access immediately ended as a judge considered whether to temporarily put a hold on the law.
A court hearing took place Friday, but the judge said his ruling on whether to halt the new law as the courts assess its constitutionality will likely not come until Monday at the earliest.
Barely a mile away, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law in front of 2,000 conservative Christians.
The new legislation prohibits almost all abortions once cardiac activity can be detected, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. That’s a dramatic shift for women in Iowa, where abortion had been legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood North Central States and the Emma Goldman Clinic filed the legal challenge Wednesday and representatives spoke at the court hearing Friday.
After the hearing, District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin said he could not imagine “anything that would be more insulting to either side” than for him to “flippantly” rule from the bench Friday.
The split screen between Reynolds’ signing and the court hearing punctuates a bitter battle between abortion advocates and opponents in Iowa that has dragged on for years and will likely, for now, remain unresolved.
“As we gather here today, at this very moment, the abortion industry is in the court trying to prevent this law from taking effect and stop once again the will of the people,” Reynolds said, before bringing lawmakers and others to the stage to sign the law. “But the passage of this legislation by even a wider margin this times sends an unmistakable message.”
The bill passed with exclusively Republican support late on Tuesday at the conclusion of a rare, 14-hour special legislative session.
The new measure will be considered in the context of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and Iowa’s Supreme Court last year, when both reversed themselves on rulings that had affirmed a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to abortion.
Those decisions prompted Reynolds to ask the court to reinstate her blocked 2018 law, which is nearly identical to the new one. The state’s high court deadlocked last month, prompting Reynolds to call lawmakers back to the Iowa Capitol.
“Patients’ lives are deeply impacted every day that this law is allowed to stand,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. “Iowans will be harmed as they’ve lost the right to control their bodies and futures."
Planned Parenthood North Central States were helping patients reschedule their appointments in other states, if they wanted, but remained hopeful there would not be a long interruption in services. Richardson said there have been hundreds of phone calls to prepare patients amid the uncertainty.
As of Wednesday, 200 patients were scheduled for abortions at Iowa Planned Parenthood clinics or the Emma Goldman Clinic this week and next, according to the court filings. Most of them already passed the six-week mark in their pregnancies.
One clinic stayed open until about 9:30 p.m. Thursday in an effort to provide abortion care to as many patients as possible before the new restrictions, their attorney said.
“I can only hope that all patients who had appointments this morning have gotten the care that they need and that they’re not sitting at a health center right now,” the clinics’ attorney Peter Im said during Friday's court arguments.
There are limited circumstances under the measure that would allow for abortion after the point in a pregnancy where cardiac activity is detected: rape, if reported to law enforcement or a health provider within 45 days; incest, if reported within 145 days; if the fetus has a fetal abnormality “incompatible with life”; or if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the pregnant woman.
Most Republican-led states have drastically limited abortion access in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and handed authority on abortion law to the states. More than a dozen states have bans with limited exceptions and one state, Georgia, bans abortion after cardiac activity is detected. Several other states have similar restrictions that are on hold pending court rulings.
Ballentine contributed from Columbia, Missouri.