Today women’s rights advocates filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court, requesting that the court block Iowa’s newest abortion law. That law would ban most abortions at around six weeks—before many women even know they’re pregnant. It would be the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.
The lawsuit is being filed by the ACLU of Iowa and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America as co-counsel on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Dr. Jill Meadows. The Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City is also a co-plaintiff in the case.
Unless blocked, the law would go into effect July 1. It would ban abortions as soon as any embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which usually happens at around six weeks.
“This abortion ban is beyond extreme," said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director. " With it, Iowa politicians have tried to ban virtually all abortions for women in our state. In the 45 years since Roe, no federal or state court has upheld such a dangerous law.”
This virtual ban is made even more harmful for women by the minimum 72-hour waiting period law that the Iowa Legislature passed last year. (That waiting period is currently blocked and awaiting decision from the Iowa Supreme Court.) If that 72-hour wait took effect and the six-week ban also took effect, even if a woman learned of a pregnancy very early, she would then be delayed by the mandatory wait period law—and then could no longer access abortion services.
If the ban takes effect, those Iowa women who can scrape together enough resources will need to travel out of state to obtain an abortion. Those who can’t will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, or in some cases will attempt to self-induce, including by dangerous means.
“This law must not go into effect,” said Dr. Jill Meadows, M.D., co-plaintiff and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Medical Director. “Abortion care must remain safe and legal as an important part of basic reproductive health care. The evidence is clear that in places where abortion is banned or heavily restricted, some individuals desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy resort to unsafe methods. If the law went into effect, it is likely that many more Iowans would attempt to self-induce abortions in ways that could jeopardize their health and their lives.”
“We are challenging this law on behalf of our patients and all Iowans,” said President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Suzanna de Baca. “The citizens of our state overwhelmingly reject attempts to restrict an individual’s rights and ability to control their own destiny. So today we fight. And we will continue to fight the efforts of anti-woman politicians to interfere in our personal health care decisions and lives. Patients deserve better, and Iowans deserve better.”
There are some exceptions in the law, but even those exceptions are so narrow and vague that they fail to protect women in extremely vulnerable or dangerous circumstances. They are:
• The law includes a “medical emergency” exception, but it’s extremely narrow and includes only “physical” conditions that are life-threatening or pose “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
Doctors who violate this exception would lose their licenses. This puts doctors in an impossible situation in trying to assess whether patients with conditions, such hypertension or cardiac problems, are in enough danger to warrant an abortion. And they risk losing their license as a result if the Iowa Board of Medicine disagrees with them after the fact.
• The law expressly does not allow a woman to access an abortion she needs because of “psychological conditions, emotional conditions, familial conditions, or the woman’s age” even though the health—and even the life—of some women is at risk for those very reasons.
As just one example: some psychiatric medication is harmful during pregnancy, putting those women in the position of choosing to continue medically necessary mental health care and risking harm to a pregnancy, or go without the care they need.
• The vague exception for a diagnosis that the fetus has a condition that is “incompatible with life” also puts doctors in an impossible position of balancing the health and well-being of their patient with the uncertainty of medical prognosis and the risk of losing their license.
• The law’s exception for rape requires that women report it to law enforcement or certain medical professionals within 45 days. That narrow definition and tight time frame rules out those women who became pregnant under conditions that may be, but are not clearly, incest or rape (and rape is not even defined anywhere in the Iowa Code).
Also, it blithely ignores the real-life circumstances of many victims who are too ashamed or traumatized to report the incest or rape at all—let alone within the narrow time frame.
Francine Thompson, co-director of the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, said the law would have a devastating impact on the women her clinic sees every day. “The cut-off period of this bill at around six weeks simply does not work for women. The timing essentially makes it an almost-complete ban on abortions in our state. It’s also important to note that the exceptions in the law are essentially non-exceptions. The requirement of reporting rape within 45 days, for example, is completely out of touch with the reality that survivors of those horrendous crimes live with.”