May 15, 2018 / 6:13 PM / 2 months ago

Groups sue to stop Iowa's 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban

(Reuters) - Planned Parenthood and the Iowa branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said they sued on Tuesday to stop a state law from coming into effect that would impose the strictest abortion limits in the United States.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature voted last month to outlaw an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively banning the procedure at about the six-week mark, which may be before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

The lawsuit was anticipated by some sponsors of the law, who hoped to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

The lawsuit in Polk County District Court seeks a hearing within two weeks to block the law before it goes into effect on July 1.

“Iowa will not go back in time by taking away this right,” Suzanna de Baca, the president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told reporters at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “Planned Parenthood is challenging this law because the Iowa Constitution is clear a woman has a right to access a safe and legal abortion.”

There are some exceptions to the law, such as in some cases of rape and incest and in a serious medical emergency, but Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions, and ACLU say the exceptions are too narrow.

Abortion opponents hope such a lawsuit could bring the divisive abortion issue back before the U.S. Supreme Court in the belief that the 5-4 conservative majority could curtail abortion access or ban it outright.

Rick Bertrand, a Republican state senator from Sioux City, said last month the law was in part “an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade.”

Planned Parenthood and ACLU said they hope to avoid that possibility by only challenging the law under the Iowa Constitution, which they also say guarantees a woman’s right to abortion, not the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of the Iowa law could not be reached for immediate comment.

The Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, which describes itself as the first abortion provider in the state after the passage of Roe v. Wade, is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.

A law passed in Iowa last year that requires a minimum 72-hour waiting period before getting an abortion is currently blocked while the Iowa Supreme Court decides whether to strike it down.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown

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