Iowa abortion ban blocked for now; litigation may last years

Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert has granted a temporary injunction to prevent Iowa’s near-total ban on abortion from going into effect on July 1. Attorneys from the Thomas More Society, a conservative Chicago law firm representing the state pro bono, did not object to the injunction at today’s hearing, Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register.

Senate File 359 outlaws almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, with very few exceptions. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, and the Emma Goldman Clinic filed suit last month, citing three ways in which the law violates rights guaranteed under the Iowa Constitution.

Advocates for the law have expressed hope that the case could eventually prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. Plaintiffs structured the case to keep the litigation in state court, because if the Iowa Supreme Court finds the state constitution protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, there will be no path to appeal in federal courts. UPDATE: To clarify, some cases filed in state court can be appealed to federal courts. However, all claims in this lawsuit are grounded in alleged violations of the Iowa Constitution: specifically, due process rights, “inalienable rights of persons to liberty, safety, and happiness,” and equal protection. Plaintiffs are not claiming the abortion ban violates any rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

This law will never be enforced, because it is obviously unconstitutional. Some readers have asked whether the case might be resolved before the November election. That’s extraordinarily unlikely. A timeline of events in Iowa’s last legal battle over abortion rights suggests it could be years before the Iowa Supreme Court decides this case.

Continue Reading...

Groups sue to block abortion ban; Iowa AG won't defend law (updated)

UPDATE: Have added the plaintiffs’ court filings at the end of this post.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic filed suit today to block the new state ban on almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. I enclose below the full statement from the groups and will post the court filing once that document becomes available. The Polk County District Court is certain to put a stay on Senate File 359 (which would have taken effect July 1) while litigation is pending.

Attorney General Tom Miller “has disqualified himself from representing the state” in this case, Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson informed Iowa’s Executive Council today. Miller took that step after determining “he could not zealously assert the state’s position because of his core belief that the statute, if upheld, would undermine rights and protections for women.” The attorney general recommends that the Executive Council authorize the Thomas More Society to defend the law. That conservative group has offered its legal services at no cost to the state.

Miller’s decision is telling, because a few years ago, the Iowa Attorney General’s office defended the state administrative rule seeking to ban the use of telemedicine to provide medical abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics around the state. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously found that policy created an “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion. You can read that decision in full here.

Continue Reading...

Heartbeat bill advances where personhood failed

The Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that would ban nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Senate Study Bill 3143 is the most extreme anti-abortion bill to clear an Iowa legislative committee in decades. Any physician terminating a pregnancy in the absence of a “medical emergency”–narrowly defined to include only life-threatening conditions–could be charged with a class D felony. All eight Republicans on the panel voted for the legislation, while all five Democrats opposed it. Committee approval on February 12 keeps the bill alive for at least another month, until the second “funnel” deadline on March 16.

Less than a year ago, Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Zaun was disappointed not to have the votes on his committee to advance a “personhood” bill, which declared that life would be protected from the moment of conception. The same eight Republicans who supported the heartbeat bill this week served on Judiciary during the 2017 session.

Which minds changed is not clear, nor is it apparent whether the bill will gain final approval in either chamber. Not every bill that comes out of committee receives a vote in the full Senate. Republican leaders blocked an effort to force a floor vote on personhood last year.

However, the shift among at least two Republicans on Judiciary suggests that GOP leaders may feel pressure to fire up the social conservative base.

Continue Reading...

Senate GOP's budget cuts could close more than 30 county courthouses

More than 30 county courthouses could close if the Iowa legislature enacts Senate Republicans’ plan to cut more than $4.8 million from the judicial branch for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio warned on January 25. Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider proposed some $52 million in mid-year budget cuts the same day; within hours, his committee approved the bill along party lines.

Earlier this month, Governor Kim Reynolds proposed about $27 million in spending cuts before the end of the fiscal year, of which about $1.6 million would come from the judicial branch. House Republicans have not yet released a plan for mid-year cuts. In January 2017, leaders from both chambers worked out a deal behind closed doors before publishing a bill. But House Speaker Linda Upmeyer “said Thursday the House was still working on its plan for spending reductions,” the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel reported.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

Continue Reading...
View More...