June 1, 2018 / 4:48 PM / 3 months ago

Judge to temporarily block Iowa's restrictive abortion law

(Reuters) - An Iowa judge has temporarily blocked the state’s new abortion law, the strictest in the country, from taking effect on July 1 while opponents and defenders of the measure present legal arguments, participants in the case said on Friday.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature voted in April to outlaw 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.

Attorneys for the Thomas More Society, which is defending the law on behalf of the state, said they agreed not to contest the court order during a short hearing with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa (ACLU), Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic, which oppose the law.

Iowa District Court Judge Michael Huppert said in court on Friday that he would issue a temporary injunction, the two sides said. A hearing on the merits of the opponents’ arguments has yet to be scheduled.

More Society attorney Martin Cannon said he agreed to delay implementation of the new abortion restrictions “for reasons unique to the Iowa case” but stressed that the state had made no concessions on its underlying defense of the law.

“We want to have this argument once, we want to have it right, and we want to have it soon,” Cannon said in an email.

Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, turned to the More Society to defend the law after Tom Miller, the state’s Democratic attorney general, said last month he would not do so because he believes it would undermine the rights of women. Reynolds signed the bill on May 4.

Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement that the organization was ready to argue to protect women from the “dangerous” abortion ban, adding that with the injunction, “we were able to get everything we were asking for today.”

Iowa’s law, with its fetal heartbeat provision, would impose the earliest gestational limit on abortion among U.S. states, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute.

There are exceptions to the ban, including some cases of rape and incest and serious medical emergencies, but Planned Parenthood, whose services include abortions, and the ACLU say the exceptions are too narrow.

“We knew there would be a legal fight, but it’s a fight worth having to protect innocent life,” Reynolds’ spokeswoman Brenna Smith said in an email after Friday’s court hearing.

The abortion rights groups sued the state on May 15 to stop the law, which was anticipated by some sponsors of the ban 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.

A 2017 Iowa law that requires a minimum 72-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion is also currently blocked while the Iowa Supreme Court decides whether to strike it down.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

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