Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has called for a special legislative session to pursue new abortion restrictions. This comes after the state Supreme Court declined to reinstate a 2018 ban, which prohibited abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Last month, the court was split 3-3 and did not issue a decision on the merits of the law, leaving the possibility open for the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass a similar ban. Currently, abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Lawmakers are set to meet on July 11.

“Iowans deserve a prompt legislative response to the abortion issue, and all unborn children deserve protection by the government, as the fetal heartbeat law intended,” Reynolds stated in the order.

The blocked law aimed to ban abortion once cardiac activity is detectable, which typically occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, often before women realize they are pregnant. Medical experts clarify that this cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat, but rather an initial flutter of electric movement within cells in an embryo.

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Democrats in the Legislature have immediately criticized the expected restrictions, claiming they contradict the views of the majority of Iowa residents. Polling shows that most U.S. adults, including Iowans, support at least some access to abortion in general, although opinions on the issue are complex. Few advocate for making abortion illegal in all cases.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, most Republican-led states have significantly limited abortion access. In addition, in 2022, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its opinion stating that the state constitution affirms a fundamental right to abortion.

Abortion protestors in Iowa

A protestor holds a sign as community members walk around Davenport, Iowa, during a march following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 26, 2022. 
(Nikos Frazier/Quad City Times via AP, File)

Despite these rulings, Reynolds chose not to call a special session last year to implement new restrictions. Instead, she sought to enforce the 2018 ban through the state courts. However, the law, which included exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, incest, and fetal abnormality, was blocked by a 2019 district court ruling.

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While referencing the 2018 law, Reynolds’ order does not explicitly define the restrictions she believes lawmakers should enact now.

Some individuals in the state believe that lawmakers should go even further.

“We will always encourage and advocate for the day when all innocent life is cherished and protected by law, from conception to natural death. But at minimum, we want to see the Heartbeat bill passed,” stated Drew Zahn, a spokesperson for the conservative Christian group, The Family Leader, via text message.

Any new law is likely to face legal challenges in state court.

Iowa’s high court has not determined whether earlier rulings that employed an “undue burden test” for abortion laws are still in effect. The undue burden test is an intermediate level of scrutiny that requires laws to not create significant obstacles to abortion. State lawyers argued that the law should be evaluated using rational basis review, which is the lowest level of scrutiny for legal challenges.

“The constitutional standard is clear in the state of Iowa, and it’s really alarming to see the governor dismiss the rule of law like this,” said Pete McRoberts, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. “We will be fully prepared when she reconvenes the Legislature.”

Reynolds has only called for a special session once before, in 2021, when lawmakers gathered in two separate special sessions to approve the drawing of congressional and legislative districts.


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