Oral arguments heard in fetal heartbeat lawsuit in Iowa


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DES MOINES — Planned Parenthood hoped that its lawsuit against Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law would be thrown out without a trial. Attorneys for Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds sought to quash that hope during oral arguments Dec. 7 in Polk County District Court.

Last spring, Iowa lawmakers passed one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation — declaring that abortion is prohibited after a fetal heartbeat is detected. But a lawsuit filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland placed the law on hold before it took effect. Planned Parenthood’s medical director Jill Meadows, M.D., and Emma Goldman Clinic, an abortion provider in Iowa City, are co-plaintiffs. They believe that the new law violates the Iowa Constitution.

Planned Parenthood’s attorneys sought to avoid a trial by claiming that no material facts in the lawsuit are in dispute. In that case, a judge could apply the law without going to trial. Attorney Martin Cannon, Thomas More Society Special Council, argued for the state that significant factual issues are in dispute.


“Planned Parenthood gives lots of reasons why abortion is such a good thing,” Cannon said, giving examples such as raising children is a challenge, or having a baby might prevent a woman from finishing school. Those facts are true. “It’s another way of saying that babies affect your life — and they are going to demand a lot of you. That is not a reason to kill them,” Cannon said.

While a woman has a right to an abortion as a result of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, she doesn’t have a right to abort a baby whose fetal heartbeat has been detected, Iowa lawmakers decided. Cannon said that a fetal heartbeat can be detected by abdominal ultrasounds no earlier than seven or eight weeks of gestation and usually not until several weeks later.

From the time a woman learns she is pregnant, she has perhaps another five or six weeks to act before a heartbeat is detectable, Cannon said.
The law doesn’t prohibit abortion based on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy, but rather on whether her child has a detectable heartbeat.

“So it’s very child specific. One woman could be prohibited (from abortion) at eight weeks, another at nine weeks. It depends on when that baby has a detectable heartbeat,” he said. Iowa law currently prohibits abortions at 20 weeks into pregnancy.

According to Iowa Public Radio, Planned Parenthood lawyer Alice Chapman said the law would ban almost all abortions in the state because cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. That would violate an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that abortion is a fundamental right, Chapman argued (https://tinyurl.com/yaatpqcb).

The debate over when a baby’s heartbeat is detected is crucial in this lawsuit because of what is known as the “narrow tailoring requirements,” Cannon said. The Supreme Court requires that a law cannot be overly broad.

Cannon claims a law that is directed to whether a specific child being considered for abortion actually has a heartbeat is not overly broad.
He said Planned Parenthood also raised arguments on the viability of an unborn child. That issue is utterly inappropriate, he said, because a viability standard does not exist under Iowa law.

“Planned Parenthood is protecting their industry. … Viability is a federal standard — and not a state standard.”

He argues that a detectable heartbeat has moral meaning. “When a person suffers a stoppage of the heart, we call him dead. There’s a statute that says so. Doesn’t it make sense to say so for the life at the other end of the spectrum?”

Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert is expected to make a ruling in the next month or two on the oral arguments presented last week.

“There is a decent chance he will find material facts in dispute that need to go to trial. I think Planned Parenthood thought this was a slam dunk, but we have an appreciable chance of getting a trial on this,” Cannon said.

What is the Thomas More Society

Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty, is representing the State of Iowa in the fetal heartbeat lawsuit. The Chicago-based law firm agreed to do so because Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller disqualified himself from defending the new statute.

For more information about Thomas More Society, visit the website: https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/.

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