FFRF: Iowa court’s abortion ban disenfranchises women

A divided Iowa Supreme Court decision Friday, in approving a ban on most abortions, has effectively turned women in that state into noncitizens.

In an appalling miscarriage of justice, the court determined that a state constitutional right to life and liberty applies only to fetuses, not born women and pregnant persons.

“Those of us who care about civil liberties must guard against becoming habituated to the continuing deterioration of reproductive and other rights,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This tragic development for Iowa women and pregnant citizens must be condemned and fought.”

The ruling approving a misnomered “heartbeat bill” allows a six-week ban on abortion to go into effect. In fact, at six weeks, cardiac activity may be detectable but an embryo lacks a heart. The law bans abortion in a pregnancy only two weeks after the last menstrual period, before most individuals even realize they’re pregnant. Last week’s decision reverses a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that explicitly found a fundamental right to abortion in the state Constitution, a reversal due only to a change in the composition of the court.

Although the six-week ban allows exceptions for rape, incest, unsurvivable fetal abnormalities or to save the life of the pregnant person, Chief Justice Susan Christensen, in her dissent, noted the law explicitly forbids abortions “when continuation of the pregnancy will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

“In my opinion, the only female lives that this statute treats with any meaningful regard and dignity are the unborn lives of female fetuses,” Christensen wrote. “After that, this statute forces  pregnant women (and young girls) to endure and suffer through life-altering health complications that range from severe sepsis requiring limb amputation to a hysterectomy so long as those women are not at death’s door.”

“We need to ask whether a woman has a fundamental right of personal autonomy over her body as part of the ‘life’ and ‘liberty’ protected by (the Iowa Constitution),” Justice Edward Mansfield added in his dissent. “I think that answer is clearly yes. We then should ask whether a law practically banning abortion is an improper invasion of that right — notwithstanding the state’s undeniable interest in promoting and preserving human life.”

Mansfield noted that the court “gives no weight to a woman’s autonomy over her body” and the fact that the Iowa Constitution protects the right not to have children as much as it protects parenthood.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are reviewing litigation options. FFRF is glad to see that the chief justice’s dissent references Iowa’s recent “religious freedom” law — the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This law requires higher standards for laws infringing on religious beliefs and possibly provides a path forward. An Indiana court earlier this spring ruled that that state’s draconian ban ran afoul of Jewish beliefs that life begins at birth. Unfortunately, a Kentucky county judge on Friday just ruled against three Jewish women — one of whom needs to use in vitro fertilization to get pregnant — who contended that the state’s abortion ban infringes on their religious freedom and ability to safely carry out a pregnancy.

When pious Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act this year, she showed her true colors, stating, “The right of religious freedom is endowed upon us by our creator — not government.” Bingo. She and other anti-abortion zealots are seeking to inflict their religious viewpoint on all other citizens of other religions or no religion.

Wouldn’t it be just deserts if we can turn RFRA on its face to defang the anti-abortion campaign and undue these cruel bans? It’s incumbent on the secular movement to try.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization that has 40,000 members nationwide, including hundreds of members in Iowa. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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