Iowa’s Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Ban Declared Unconstitutional

An anti-abortion sign along County Highway G5T in rural Pella, 2016. Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr

In an expected ruling released Tuesday afternoon, Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert struck down Iowa’s fetal heartbeat abortion ban, a law signed into law last May by Gov. Kim Reynolds that quickly became known as the strictest abortion ban in the country.

The law was scheduled to go into effect July 1 but never did thanks to a legal challenge from the ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland that temporarily halted it as it awaited a court ruling. It will almost certainly be appealed, at least in the Iowa court system.

When the law passed last year, its proponents anticipated this outcome. “I understand and I anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court, and that courts may even put on hold a law until it reaches the Supreme Court,” Reynolds said when she signed the bill into law. “We need to create vehicles that will allow the Supreme Court possibly to reach back and take this case, and to take up an anti-abortion case,” then-state Sen. Rick Bertrand told the New York Times.

However, it’s unclear if Iowa abortion foes will have much luck with this strategy. In his decision, Huppert ruled that the law violated the Iowa’s constitution, adding there was insufficient evidence that there was a compelling state interest in such a strict prohibition on abortion. Because of the US Supreme Court’s limited jurisdiction in deciding state constitutional issues, it may ultimately take a challenge from another state to reach the high court’s new conservative majority and ultimately redecide Roe v. Wade.

Prominent social conservatives in Iowa responded with disappointment but not surprise. Shane Vander Hart, a blogger and podcaster who runs the website Caffeinated Thoughts, suggested there could be an effort to oust Huppert when he’s up for a retention vote in 2020. The Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats, who led a successful campaign in 2010 to remove three state supreme court justices after the court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in Iowa, alleged in an email to supporters that Huppert “based today’s ruling on the outrageous judicial activism of Iowa’s State Supreme Court.”

To learn more about Iowa’s history with abortion, which until Roe had been illegal but largely tolerated, check out the cover story from our September-October print edition.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.