‘Heartbeat’ law’s future likely to be determined by courts

The Dubuque Witness

Abortion-rights advocates vowed to challenge Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” law, and May 15, they made good on the promise.

The legislation, signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on May 4, is slated to take effect July 1, but it’s too early to tell whether it will ever actually be implemented, according to the exec­u­tive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.

Tom Chapman clarified that the law’s future depends on the outcome of a legal battle currently playing out in the state court system, as well as one that may come later.

Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa and the Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City held a news conference announcing a lawsuit was filed May 15 in Polk County District Court to challenge to the constitutionality of Senate File 359. They are also requesting a temporary injunction be issued with an expedited hearing within 14 days as the case progresses.

“The lawsuit was expected, and the growing pro-life movement isn’t deterred by it,” said Drew Zahn, director of communications for the Family Leader organization. “In fact, we welcome the courts hearing the debate on the question of when life begins.”

Reynolds, a Republican, informed reporters in Davenport after a Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon the Thomas More Society, a faith-based legal organization from Chicago, would represent her and the Iowa Board of Medicine as defendants at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.

“We feel very confident moving forward with it,” she said, “and so it’s important that, first of all, this is about life; it’s about protecting life and that’s first and foremost the priority.”

In 2017, the Iowa Legislature passed a law, known as the Iowa Act, that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That law also included a section that required a three-day waiting period before an abortion. The 20-week ban is now in force, but the waiting period was put on hold, pending the outcome of a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa.

The Iowa Supreme Court is expected to rule in this case before the end of June. The court’s decision could have an impact on not only the heartbeat law, but also on how abortion is treated under state law in general, Chapman explained.

“They (Iowa Supreme Court justices) have not really found a robust right to an abortion yet in the (Iowa) state Constitution, but they did allude to it at the state constitutional level when the state Supreme Court struck down the webcam rules, which would have outlawed webcam abortions in 2015,” he said. “The court struck that down and said we have a constitutional right at least similar to the one at the federal level.”

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal in all cases in the first trimester and gave states the ability to regulate it past that until “fetal viability,” according to the U.S. Constitution Center. In 1992, the Supreme Court again addressed the abortion issue in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, deciding that the mother had a constitutional right to abortion and that this right “could not be unduly interfered with by the state prior to viability.”

Chapman believes that despite the challenges the heartbeat law is likely to face in the court system, he is encouraged by the effort to protect life in Iowa.

“Of course, the church is all about (protecting life) from womb to natural death, and from its earliest moments,” he said. “As Pope Francis said, what we want people to take away from this is let us respect and love human life. We want the judiciary to recognize what a lot of people do – a life should be protected all the way through.”

Fetal body parts sale ban part of new law

Lost in much of the coverage of the “heartbeat” bill was the fact the law, formerly called Senate File 359, also contains a ban on the sale of fetal body parts.

The law states: “A person shall not knowingly acquire, provide, receive, otherwise transfer, or use a fetal body part in this state, regardless of whether the acquisition, provision, receipt, or use is for valuable consideration.”

The term “valuable consideration” in this context means for any payment. People who violate the ban can be charged with a felony. The law allows for scientific research and “diagnostic or remedial tests” on fetal tissues.

The body parts provision was originally a stand-alone bill in 2017 but was added to the heartbeat bill in 2018, according to Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). The sale of fetal body parts after an abortion is a practice that is legal in some states of the U.S. and not in others.

The practice came to national attention in 2015 when a series of videos taken by an activist group allegedly showed officials from Planned Parenthood engaging in the sale of body parts from aborted fetuses. The ICC supported the bill. To the best of Chapman’s knowledge, the sales are not going on in Iowa.

Joanne Fox contributed to this story.


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