Iowa judge blocks effort to ban most abortions in the state

FILE - Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds takes part in a panel discussion during a Republican Governors Association conference on Nov. 15, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. A state judge on Monday, Dec. 12, blocked an effort to ban most abortions in Iowa by upholding a court decision made three years ago. Reynolds said in a statement that she would appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File) (Phelan M. Ebenhack, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DES MOINES, Iowa – An effort to ban most abortions in Iowa was blocked Monday by a state judge who upheld a court decision made three years ago.

Judge Celene Gogerty found there was no process for reversing a permanent injunction that blocked the abortion law in 2019.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that she would appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Current state law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but Reynolds asked the courts to reverse the 2019 decision that blocked a bill she had signed into law the previous year. That law prohibited abortions once cardiac activity can be detected — the “fetal heartbeat” concept — which usually happens around six weeks of pregnancy and is often before many women know they’re pregnant.

Reynolds argued that because of decisions earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court that found woman have no constitutional right to abortion, the Iowa judge should reverse the 2019 decision blocking the abortion law.

Lawyers for Iowa’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, countered that there is no precedent or legal support for reversing a decision finalized by a judge years earlier. They said Reynolds must go through the legislative process to pass a new law.

Reynolds did not appeal the decision when it was handed down in 2019.

At that time, Judge Michael Huppert's decision was based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, as well as an Iowa Supreme Court decision in 2018 that declared abortion a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.

Reynolds, who supports outlawing abortions, decided to turn to the courts to impose stricter abortion limits instead of calling a special session of the legislature to pass a new law.

In her decision Monday, Gogerty wrote that state law didn't give her the power to dissolve the permanent injunction and let the new abortion law take effect. Even if she had that power, Gogerty wrote that the Iowa Supreme Court decision finding no constitutional right to abortion didn’t substantially change how the abortion law would have been judged under the Iowa Constitution.

In her statement, the governor expressed disappointment the law approved by the Legislature wasn't allowed to take effect, but she noted an appeal to the state Supreme Court was always expected, regardless of the judge's decision. The current court is far more conservative than in 2018 when it declared a right to abortion, with five of the court's seven members named by Reynolds.

“The decision of the people’s representatives to protect life should be honored, and I believe the court will ultimately do so,” Reynolds said. “As long as I’m governor, I will continue to fight for the sanctity of life and for the unborn.”

Planned Parenthood North Central States didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment about the ruling.

Although Iowa's law blocked by the courts seeks to prevent abortions when a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, this does not easily translate to medical science. That's because the point where advanced technology can detect that first visual flutter, the embryo isn’t yet a fetus, and it doesn’t have a heart. An embryo is termed a fetus eight weeks after fertilization.

The Iowa law contains exceptions for medical emergencies, including threats to the mother’s life, rape, incest, and fetal abnormality.

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