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Iowa bishops celebrate as ‘heartbeat’ law goes into effect

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Iowa state capitol building in Des Moines, Iowa. / Credit: Paul Brady Photography/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 1, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Iowa is celebrating a decision by the state Supreme Court that found abortion is “not a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution,” allowing a pro-life “heartbeat” law to take effect.

The narrow 4-3 decision, issued in Planned Parenthood v. Iowa on June 28, reversed a lower court’s temporary blockage of the law. This means that the measure, which protects unborn life from abortion starting at the point at which a fetal heartbeat is detectable, will soon go into effect.

Commending the ruling, Iowa’s bishops said: “For us, this is a question of the common good and human dignity. Human life is precious and should be protected in our laws to the greatest extent possible.”

A state district court blocked the heartbeat law shortly after its passage in 2023. The district court ruled the measure was likely unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden” on abortion.

The Iowa Supreme Court, however, ruled that the law is likely not unconstitutional.

“We have previously held that abortion is not a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution,” state Justice Matthew McDermott wrote in the majority opinion. “Applying our established tiers of scrutiny, we hold that abortion restrictions alleged to violate the due process clause are subject to the rational basis test. Employing that test here, we conclude that the fetal heartbeat statute is rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in protecting unborn life.”

Using this rationale, the state high court reversed the district court’s injunction and sent the case back for further examination, meaning the case will continue. In the meantime, however, the path has been cleared for Iowa’s heartbeat law to take effect.

Bishops celebrate decision

Bishops Walker Nickless of Sioux City, William Joensen of Des Moines, and Thomas Zinkula of Dubuque issued a joint statement on Friday in which they said: “We celebrate that the Iowa Supreme Court has recognized there is no right to an abortion to be found in the Iowa Constitution.”

Quoting Pope Francis’ call to “respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb,” the bishops said that “as a state and as a society, we should commit ourselves to working for the protection of all vulnerable populations from violence — wherever individuals and groups are at risk.”

“We urge people of goodwill in Iowa both to work for an end to the practice of abortion and to join us in tireless, unremitting, and compassionate solidarity with pregnant women in distress, with the men who fathered these children, and with families in need,” the bishops wrote.

Besides celebrating the court’s decision, Tom Chapman, a representative for the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA that the bishops are encouraging parishes to continue outreach to women and families in need and are asking for support of pregnancy help centers. 

He also said that the Iowa Catholic Conference is advocating for increased support for mothers through the state’s MOMS (More Options for Maternal Support) program. 

Responding to arguments proffered by opponents of the law, Chapman said that while “some are spreading confusion about needed medical interventions,” there is “nothing in the law which would prevent women and their unborn child from receiving the medical treatment they need.”


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