Iowa Fires Warning Shot Across Bow of Roe v. Wade with Heartbeat Bill

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs a six-week abortion ban bill into law on May 4, 2018, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Fifty-one years ago, Susan Morledge had an abortion for what she described as “medical reasons.” Now, the 70-year-old mother of two adult children told the Des Moines Register she supports Iowa’s new abortion law, which will be the strictest in the nation.


“To me, a heartbeat means a baby is alive,” said Morledge.

Sara Nolta, another Iowa resident, said she’s afraid if the Iowa law isn’t stopped by a judge before it goes into effect as scheduled July 1, the unintended consequences could be disastrous.

“If (lawmakers) somehow think this will end abortions in Iowa — well, that’s just absurd,” said Nolta. “I fear for the other means people will go for to end a pregnancy.”

Both women, while they express the points of view of the two sides of the argument, are missing the big picture. Senate File 359, also known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” was not an end in itself.

“The whole incident is best understood as pre-season training for the pitched battles sure to occur in an awful lot of states if Trump gets another justice and Roe is overturned or significantly modified,” Ed Kilgore concluded in an op-ed written for New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer.

Senate File 359, signed into law by Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds May 4, bars doctors from performing most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is heard. That can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the Des Moines Register reported. Sometimes the heartbeat can be detected before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.


As far as Reynolds is concerned, the detection of a fetal heartbeat settles the argument over when life begins.

“If death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life?” Reynolds said after signing the legislation, which has been called the most restrictive in the nation.

One thing is certain: as soon as Reynolds wrote her name on the legislation, lawyers for both sides went to work.

Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, said the organization’s legal team, along with attorneys from Planned Parenthood, would “sue to strike down this unconstitutional law before it goes into effect on July 1.”

“I am here to tell Gov. Reynolds: We will see you in court,” Suzanna de Baca, president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, described May 4 as a “sad day for women and families in Iowa.”

“We now look to the courts to defend our essential human rights,” Hogue said in a statement.

The NARAL press release also made it clear the pro-choice group was expecting the Iowa Heartbeat Bill to be nothing but the first shot fired in a dedicated effort to scrap Roe v. Wade.


“The anti-choice GOP has made it clear that these bills are purposely meant to spark challenges in the courts and overturn Roe v. Wade,” the NARAL statement read.

Attorneys are ready to go to work for the Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders (CoPLL), too.

Iowa Right to Life issued a statement two days before Richards signed SF 359 that said “two different national and conservative law firms” promised CoPLL they would represent Iowa in court at no cost, “all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.”

“The Iowa pro-life community and the Iowa legislature took a major step forward yesterday with the passage of the Heartbeat Bill in the Iowa House and Senate.  We should all take some pride in being a part of those efforts,” the statement read.

The Iowa Right to Life statement also made clear the Heartbeat Bill’s place in the Roe v. Wade debate.

“However, we will not (CAN NOT!) rest until we have achieved legal protection for ALL of the innocent, unborn children who lose their life through abortion every year both in Iowa and nationally,” the Iowa Right to Life statement said.

Stringer said pro-life supporters made no secret of their agenda.

“Supporters of this abortion ban know it is unconstitutional. They have been willing to push it through because their goal is to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortions altogether,” Stringer said.


Jill Adams, executive director of the Center on Reproductive Rights, pointed out the Iowa law is not the first to place what pro-choice advocates would describe as onerous restrictions on abortions.

Mississippi, North Dakota and Arkansas have all passed similar laws and all have been blocked by federal judges.

But Adams also said there is no doubt about the intent of Iowa’s Heartbeat Bill.

“Iowa’s six-week ban on abortion provisions is the latest attempt of many by abortion opponents to enact patently unconstitutional laws in the hopes of teeing up a case that would allow the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade,” Adams told The Cut, “and to further their efforts to establish fetal personhood.”


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