Iowa Supreme Court Allows Six-Week Abortion Ban to Take Effect

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state’s six-week abortion ban could be enforced, a decision that sharply limits access to the procedure and fulfills a longstanding goal of the state’s Republican leaders.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the national right to abortion in 2022, state legislatures and courts have become central battlegrounds on the issue. Many conservative states, largely in the South and Midwest, have moved to ban or sharply limit the procedure, while other states have passed new abortion protections.

In Iowa, Republican lawmakers, who dominate the State Legislature, tried twice to enact a six-week ban. The State Supreme Court, which is made up of Republican appointees, deadlocked last year on whether the first law, passed in 2018, should be enforced, leaving a lower court’s injunction in place.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, responded by calling a special session, in which Republicans swiftly passed another six-week ban over the objections of Democrats and abortion-rights supporters. A state district court had blocked enforcement while the new law was being challenged, which meant that women in the state could continue to seek abortions up until about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion remains legal in some states bordering Iowa, including Illinois and Minnesota. Other nearby states, including Missouri and South Dakota, have banned the procedure in almost all circumstances.

The 2023 Iowa law that became the focus of a legal challenge allowed for abortions until the point where there was what the legislation calls “detectable fetal heartbeat,” a term that medical groups dispute. The law assumed that this was roughly six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

The legislation included exceptions after that point for rape or incest, when the woman’s life was in serious danger or she faced a risk of certain permanent injuries, or when fetal abnormalities “incompatible with life” were present.

A Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa poll from last year found that 61 percent of adults in the state believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 35 percent believed it should be illegal in most or all cases.

But as Democrats nationally have run on abortion rights in recent elections, retaking state legislative chambers and holding governorships, the party has floundered in Iowa, which not so long ago was a presidential battleground state. In 2022, Governor Reynolds overwhelmingly won re-election, Republicans swept the state’s congressional seats and voters unseated the attorney general and treasurer, both Democrats who had held office for decades.

President Biden has sought to make abortion a central campaign issue again this year, but Iowa is unlikely to be competitive in November. Former President Donald J. Trump carried the state by significant margins in 2016 and 2020.

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