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Iowa Strikes Down Fetal Heartbeat Law

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on January 24, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The abortion battle is heating up, especially given the composite of the current United States Supreme Court. Most states are looking to retain as many rights as possible at the state level, and the Iowa courts are no exception.

Judge Michael Huppert of Polk County, Iowa, ruled that according to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision, the states Fetal Heartbeat law violates the Iowa Constitution, which makes a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy a fundamental right. By relying on the Iowa Constitution and the Iowa Supreme Court precedent, Huppert should be able to keep this case out of the United States Supreme Court. But it could just be a matter of time before the right case hits the right court, and the real battle begins.

Iowa Fetal Heartbeat Law Sets Cut-Off Too Early

The Iowa Fetal Heartbeat law banned abortions from taking place after an ultrasound detected a heartbeat, so long as the pregnancy didn't involve a medical emergency or medical necessity. Medical necessity was defined as pregnancies involving rape, incest, miscarriage, or fetal abnormality.

Fetal heartbeats can be detected via ultrasound as early a six weeks, which is only halfway through the first trimester. This is well before the fetus is viable, which generally occurs around 24 to 27 weeks, but could be debatable as early as 22 weeks. Regardless, banning abortions before viability violates "the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life," Huppert wrote.

Fetal Heartbeat Laws Can Be Arbitrary

Fetal Heartbeat laws are unnerving for a variety of reasons. At six weeks, many women don't know they are pregnant. Six weeks actually means about four weeks past conception, and just two weeks past a missed period, and that is if a woman's period is regular at 28 days.

Another reasons is that the "cut off date" is rather arbitrary. Some heartbeats can be detected at six weeks, others at eight weeks, depending upon the woman, the fetus, and the technology being used. A policy such as this actually encourages women to find the worst technology for their baby to optimize the most choice.

Ohio May Pass Fetal Heartbeat Law Soon

Ohio recently passed a Fetal Heartbeat bill through the state legislature. Though the former governor vetoed a similar bill, newly elected Governor DeWine said that he would support and sign the bill. Ohio's bill does not make an exception for rape or incest, though would do so during a medical emergency or to save the woman's life. Under the bill, performing an abortion on a fetus with a heartbeat would result in a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Since 2010, states have passed at least 424 anti-abortion bills. If you feel that an abortion law in your state violates your constitutional rights, contact a local civil rights attorney.

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