Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill early Wednesday effectively banning abortions as early as six weeks’ gestation — before many people even know they are pregnant.
Lawmakers know the legislation will end up in court. In fact, anti-abortion advocates hope it makes it all the way up to the Supreme Court, as their ultimate objective is to overturn the 1973 landmark case that established the constitutional right to abortion, Roe v. Wade.
“It is time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life,” said state Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R), the bill’s floor manager.
The Iowa Senate sent the six-week ban — which was amended to include exceptions for pregnancies resulting from cases of rape or incest — to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ (R) desk overnight, just hours after the House passed the legislation. Reynolds has not publicly said whether she would sign the bill — but she has said abortion is “equivalent to murder.” The state already bans abortion after 20 weeks.
Anti-abortion advocates in Ohio were among the first to push a “heartbeat” ban in 2011, according to Rewire News. These bans aim to criminalize abortion as soon as a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, which typically occurs around six weeks.
But not everyone in the anti-choice movement was on board. Ohio’s legislation caused a rift among the anti-abortion community, as some thought the extreme ban distracted from other efforts to incrementally chip away at Roe v. Wade. Ultimately, a heartbeat ban failed to pass in Ohio — but it did set up other states to push similar measures.
Lawmakers in North Dakota and Arkansas were emboldened to pass heartbeat ban legislation, which was then blocked by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court declined to review each state’s case after the lower court prevented the laws from taking effect.
“One scenario that could cause the Supreme Court to take up a heartbeat law would be a circuit split, in which two federal appellate courts disagreed about whether similar laws are unconstitutional,” wrote the Des Moines Register’s Stephen Gruber-Miller. “But the fact that the 8th Circuit, a relatively conservative federal court, has refused to uphold a heartbeat law illustrates the challenges facing this approach. Lower courts are bound by Supreme Court precedent.”
Federal courts often prevent restrictive abortion bills from becoming law. That’s one reason why anti-choice advocates have celebrated the fact that the Trump administration has appointed a lot of judges to the federal courts. Notably, the Trump administration has already appointed three new judges to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The possible retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy — a seat that Trump could fill — has also encouraged states like Iowa to pass these restrictive bills.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who authored a proposed federal “heartbeat” abortion ban, has taken a similar public stance as the local lawmakers in his state. “I wrote the heartbeat bill to go before the court after the next appointment at the Supreme Court,” King said to Politico.