Constitutional Law

Iowa fetal heartbeat law struck down; other states mull similar bills and look to Supreme Court

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A state court judge has overturned an Iowa law that bans most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Judge Michael Huppert of Polk County, Iowa, ruled Tuesday that the law violates the Iowa Constitution, report the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Radio.

The decision comes as abortion opponents pin their hopes on U.S. Supreme Court Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch as possible votes to turn back abortion rights, report the Associated Press and a New York Times op-ed. By citing state rather than federal constitutional grounds, the Iowa case likely would be insulated from Supreme Court review.

At least five other states are considering fetal heartbeat bills. They are Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina, according to the AP story. Two other states, West Virginia and Alabama, passed state constitutional amendments that could ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the New York Times. The states acted just weeks after Kavanaugh was sworn in as a justice.

Huppert’s opinion cited a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision finding that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution. The 2018 decision struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortions.

The Iowa heartbeat law had banned abortion after ultrasound detection of a heartbeat in cases that don’t involve a medical emergency or aren’t a medical necessity. The law generally defined necessity as cases involving rape, incest, miscarriage or fetal abnormality.

Huppert said a fetal heartbeat can be detected “well in advance of the fetus becoming viable.” Banning abortions before viability violates “the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life,” Huppert wrote.

Since 2010, states have passed at least 424 anti-abortion bills, according to research by the Guttmacher Institute. In seven states, each have just one abortion clinic left. The number of clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices providing abortions decreased from 2,900 in 1982 to slightly less than 1,700 in 2014, according to Guttmacher statistics cited by the Wall Street Journal.

Abortion-rights advocates are fighting back with lawsuits in at least nine states that challenge state laws that allow abortions to be performed only by doctors, according to the Wall Street Journal story.

In some other states, legislatures are considering bills that would repeal unenforced abortion restrictions and protect abortion rights.

“The anti-abortion movement understands the high stakes of this moment,” according to the New York Times op-ed. “Those who support reproductive rights must as well.”

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