‘Fetal heartbeat bill’ blocked, Iowa Supreme Court divided 3-3

The court’s decision, which came earlier on Friday, means the bill, which has been under an injunction since it was passed, will be permanently blocked.


Kelsey Kremer/The Register

Outside Iowa’s Supreme Court and the Iowa Judicial Branch Building on Monday, April 22, 2019, in Des Moines.

Alejandro Rojas, Summer Editor

The “fetal heartbeat bill” signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds into law in 2018 will remain unenforceable, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

The bill would have blocked abortions at six weeks, but after the court was divided 3-3 on Friday, a Polk County District Court ruling from Dec. 12, 2022, permanently blocked the bill. Justice Dana Oxley recused herself from the case.

Justice Thomas Waterman, in the opinion of the three justices who upheld the Polk County ruling, wrote that it would be troubling to make a ruling that would strip abortion rights for women.

“It would be ironic and troubling for our court to become the first state supreme court in the nation to hold that trash set out in a garbage can for collection is entitled to more constitutional protection than a woman’s interest in autonomy and dominion over her own body,” Waterman wrote.

His statement makes reference to a previous case the court oversaw in 2021, State v. Wright, which prohibits police officers from searching through an individual’s trash without a warrant. He also noted in the opinion that had the justices turned over the Polk County decision, it would have been historic for the court considering it would effectively be legislating from the bench.

“The State appealed, and now asks our court to do something that has never happened in Iowa history: to simultaneously bypass the legislature and change the law, to adopt rational basis review, and then to dissolve an injunction to put a statute into effect for the first time in the same case in which that very enactment was declared unconstitutional years earlier,” he wrote.

In opposition, Justice Christopher McDonald rebuked his colleagues for upholding the lower court ruling, writing in his opinion that they were a “three-person super general assembly,” as well as criticizing them for using a results-orientated approach.

After the court’s decision, Reynolds released a statement highlighting her disappointment with the ruling.

“Not only does [the decision] disregard Iowa voters who elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of unborn children, but it has sided with a single judge in a single county who struck down Iowa’s legislation based on principles that now have been flat-out rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Reynolds said. “There is no fundamental right to abortion and any law restricting it should be reviewed on a rational basis standard – a fact acknowledged today by three of the justices.  Still, without an affirmative decision, there is no justice for the unborn.”