Iowa Republicans will pursue a 6-week abortion ban during a special session that starts Tuesday

The Republican-controlled Legislature in Iowa will aim to enact a ban on abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy during a rare special session that starts Tuesday

Hannah Fingerhut
Friday 07 July 2023 22:03 BST
Abortion Iowa
Abortion Iowa (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Iowa's Republican-controlled Legislature will aim to enact a ban on abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy during a rare special session that starts Tuesday, a draft of the bill released Friday shows.

The proposed measure is similar to a 2018 law that a deadlocked state Supreme Court declined to reinstate last month, prompting Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to call for the extraordinary session. Abortion is currently legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The drafted bill, like the 2018 law, would prohibit abortion once cardiac activity can be detected, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

A district court deemed that law unconstitutional in 2019 given rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the state's highest court that affirmed a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to abortion. Both bodies overturned those rulings last year, so Reynolds sought to reinstate the 2018 law.

The current draft of the bill, which may be amended before a vote, includes exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, incest and fetal abnormality.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the state, has said it plans to protest outside the Iowa Capitol on Tuesday. It has previously filed lawsuits to challenge the state’s abortion restrictions.

The bill is unlikely to encounter major roadblocks in the Legislature. Most Republican-led states have significant curbed abortion access in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself on Roe v. Wade. Fourteen states have bans with limited exceptions and one state, Georgia, bans abortion after cardiac activity is detected. Several other states have similar restrictions that are on hold pending court rulings.

Any restrictions to come out of Iowa's special session are likely to be challenged in court.

The question before the Iowa Supreme Court this term was largely procedural, not on the merits of the law. Last year's ruling dictated that the “undue burden test” for abortion law remains in effect unless that legal standard is litigated further, which the court has not spoken to since. The undue burden is an intermediate level of scrutiny that requires laws do not create a significant obstacle to abortion.

Lawyers for the state argued the law should be analyzed using rational basis review, the lowest level of scrutiny to judge legal challenges.

Reynolds ordered a special session just one other year, in 2021, when lawmakers had to wait until the fall to approve the drawing of congressional and legislative districts. There hadn't been a special session since 2006.

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