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Judge denies Iowa governor's request to revive 'fetal heartbeat' law

Polk County Courthouse
Madeleine C King
Polk County Courthouse

A Polk County District Court judge has denied Gov. Kim Reynolds' request to revive Iowa's ban on most abortions after a "fetal heartbeat" is detected. The ruling, issued Monday, means abortion is still legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Reynolds asked the court to remove the injunction on the law following Iowa Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court decisions that opened the door to more abortion restrictions.

Polk County District Court Judge Celene Gogerty wrote in her ruling that the state didn’t establish that she has the authority to dissolve the injunction, which was issued in 2019, and let the law take effect. She also wrote the law would still be unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution.

"The ban on nearly all abortions...would be an undue burden and, therefore, the statute would still be unconstitutional and void," Gogerty wrote.

Reynolds said in a statement she is disappointed in the ruling and will appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

"As the Iowa and U.S. Supreme Courts have made clear, there is no fundamental right to an abortion," she said. "The decision of the people's representatives to protect life should be honored, and I believe the court will ultimately do so. As long as I'm governor, I will continue to fight for the sanctity of life and for the unborn."

Reynolds has declined to directly answer questions about what her ultimate goal for abortion policy in the state would be, and if she would favor exceptions to any abortion ban.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, said Democrats will fight back against Republican attempts to restrict abortion.

"An impartial judge has once again blocked Republican politicians' extreme attack on Iowans' health and freedom," she said. "While this is a positive development that will preserve Iowans' basic rights in the near term, we all know where this is headed: Republicans want to ban abortion—at six weeks or altogether if they can."

The billReynolds signed into law in 2018 would have banned abortions after a "fetal heartbeat" is detected, which can be as early as six weeks after the first day of the pregnant person's last period. The law included exceptions for pregnancies that are a result of incest or rape that is reported to law enforcement within a certain time period, and for medical emergencies that endanger the life of the pregnant person.

Read Judge Gogerty's ruling here.

This post was updated Monday, Dec. 12 at 7:47 p.m.

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.