Iowa Supreme Court made protecting life difficult, but Iowa is eager

Chris Schandevel
Guest Columnist

Iowans are eager to affirm that life is a human right. To that end, the Iowa Legislature passed a fetal heartbeat law five years ago, protecting unborn lives after a fetal heartbeat is detected. And for the past several years, Iowans across the state have been waiting anxiously for the day when that life-saving law would finally be allowed to take effect.

That could have happened several days ago. But due to the Iowa Supreme Court’s indecision, it did not.

In its deadlocked order on June 16 in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds, the justices split 3-3 on how to resolve Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appeal of a lower court decision that left in place a 2019 injunction that is blocking Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law from taking effect. As a result of that tie vote, the lower court’s decision stands, and the law remains on hold. Simply put, three justices refused to decide whether the state’s duly enacted law is constitutional. And by declining to decide this case, they failed to give necessary guidance to the state legislature as to which pro-life laws will be upheld in court.

In the words of one of the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who would have allowed the fetal heartbeat law to take effect, “It isn’t for us to dictate abortion policy in the state, but simply to interpret and apply the law as best we can in cases that come before us. We fail the parties, the public, and the rule of law in our refusal today to apply the law and decide this case.”

Iowans and their elected representatives deserve clarity from the Iowa Supreme Court on how they can successfully pass legislation that protects some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. But instead of clarity, for the second time in two years, the court has left the legislature in the dark.

States like Iowa have the strongest possible interest in protecting the most fundamental of our human rights—the right to life. Commonsense legislation like the state’s fetal heartbeat law protects unborn life at the point of development when the baby’s heart has already started beating, brain activity can be detected, and facial features like the chin and cheeks have started to form.

Iowans deserve a high court that plays its proper role in our system of government: faithfully applying the law to interpret the meaning and constitutionality of new laws passed by the people’s elected representatives. The Iowa Legislature deserves clear guidance—not an uncertain, amorphous legal standard—as they work to write and pass pro-life bills. And Iowa women deserve the dignity and respect that comes from receiving life-affirming health care—not the abortion industry’s false choice between supporting women and protecting the lives of their children.

The state’s high court can do better, but that is beyond our control. Now it’s time for the Iowa Legislature to act—once again—to protect life. And for Iowans throughout the state to join in those efforts to create a culture that respects the dignity and value of every human life.

Chris Schandevel serves as senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal) and argued before the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of Gov. Kim Reynolds.


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