Iowa Governor Signs Nation's Strictest Abortion Ban Into Law

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU plan to challenge the "fetal heartbeat" bill, which would effectively ban abortions at six weeks of pregnancy.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Friday signed a law that would effectively ban abortions at six weeks of pregnancy, the nation’s strictest abortion legislation to date, setting up a legal battle with Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

The Republican-controlled state legislature passed the legislation, known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, earlier this week, part of a wave of GOP-backed abortion restrictions introduced at the state level in recent years.

The law requires women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, banning the procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected — typically at about six weeks into a pregnancy. It includes exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Medical professionals say that the law is far too stringent, as some women do not even know they are pregnant at six weeks. 

Earlier Friday, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU announced that they plan to sue Reynolds over the law’s constitutionality. 

“I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred,” Reynolds said at the Iowa State Capitol, where protesters could be heard during the bill signing.

“If death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life?”

She acknowledged that the bill may not go into effect, pending a legal challenge. But Reynolds, who has described herself as staunchly pro-life, said: “I’m not going to back down from who I am or what I believe in.”

Similar bans in other states have failed to take effect due to legal challenges.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision, affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion until the third trimester, and the court later held that the right existed until fetal viability — typically at 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Republicans and anti-abortion activists see Iowa’s law as an opportunity to chip away at the landmark ruling, and potentially take the legal battle to the Supreme Court.

“This bill will be the vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade,” state Sen. Rick Bertrand (R) said earlier this week. “There’s nothing hidden here about the agenda.”

Several dozen states have either passed or considered abortion restrictions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies policies on reproductive rights. Some states have also aimed to ban specific methods for abortions.

This story has been updated with comments from Reynolds.

Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to include more details about the Supreme Court cases that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.