News & Commentary

Iowa Supreme Court says 6-week abortion ban can be enforced

A pro-life advocate from Iowa holds a sign during the 2017 March for Life in Washington. The Iowa Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling June 28, 2024, said the state's six-week abortion limit could be enforced amid a legal challenge to it. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Tyler Orsburn)

(OSV News) — The Iowa Supreme Court ruled June 28 that the state’s six-week abortion limit could be enforced amid a legal challenge to it.

The 4-3 ruling reversed a previous injunction temporarily blocking the state’s “heartbeat” abortion ban, which prohibits most abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected after about six weeks of pregnancy. The law has exceptions for cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

The move lowers Iowa’s limit from its previous 22-week limit for now. The case will be sent back to the district court for further consideration.

The ruling marks a political win — a potentially temporary one — for Iowa Republicans who sought the law, including Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“There is no right more sacred than life, and nothing more worthy of our strongest defense than the innocent unborn. Iowa voters have spoken clearly through their elected representatives, both in 2018 when the original heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, and again in 2023 when it passed by an even larger margin. I’m glad that the Iowa Supreme Court has upheld the will of the people of Iowa,” she said in a statement.

Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, which operates in Iowa, said in a statement, “Today’s dangerous and reprehensible ruling will impact Iowans for generations to come.”

“Abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care. We want people to know that Planned Parenthood is here and committed to meeting the health care needs of as many patients as possible,” she added.

In a joint statement, the bishops of the Iowa Catholic Conference — Archbishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Dubuque, Bishops R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City and William M. Joensen of Des Moines — along with Father Kenneth Kuntz, diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Davenport, said, “We celebrate that the Iowa Supreme Court has recognized there is no right to an abortion to be found in the Iowa Constitution and, in so doing, has lifted an injunction against the law that would prohibit abortions after a heartbeat can be detected.”

“As Pope Francis has said, ‘Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb,'” they said. “For us, this is a question of the common good and human dignity.”

The ruling came the day after the first general election debate, in which President Joe Biden reiterated his campaign’s position of advocating for abortion protections in law. In a statement, Biden said the Iowa Supreme Court “ruled that the state’s extreme and dangerous abortion ban can go into effect.”

“Iowa is the twenty-second state with an abortion ban, imposed by Republican elected officials, that puts women’s health and lives in jeopardy,” Biden said. “This should never happen in America. Yet, this is exactly what is happening in states across the country since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.”

But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, argued, “Iowa took a giant step forward today in the human rights struggle to protect babies in the womb.”

“The Fetal Heartbeat Act protects 2,093 lives annually at the point in pregnancy when unborn children have over a 90% chance of surviving,” Dannenfelser said in a statement. “More boys and girls will be given the right to live and the opportunity to bless their families, serve their communities, and fulfill their God-given purpose on this earth. We thank Gov. Kim Reynolds, Attorney General Brenna Bird, and legislators for persisting in the fight for life and representing the people’s will to protect babies with a heartbeat.”

A 2023 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that a majority of Iowans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases at 61%, while 35% said the procedure should be illegal in most or all cases.

Iowa’s bishops in their statement called on Iowa, as a state and society, to work together to protect “all vulnerable populations from violence — wherever individuals and groups are at risk.”

“Human life is precious and should be protected in our laws to the greatest extent possible,” they said, adding, “We urge people of good will in Iowa both to work for an end to the practice of abortion and to join us in tireless, unremitting and compassionate solidarity with pregnant women in distress, with the men who fathered these children, and with families in need.”

By Kate Scanlon | OSV News