Pro-lifers sue to cut abortion exceptions from Iowa heartbeat bill
IOWA, June 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – While the abortion lobby sues to invalidate Iowa’s recently-enacted ban on aborting most babies with detectable heartbeats, a pro-life group is taking legal action to strengthen its protections.
Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed SF 359 into law on May 4, enacting the strongest pro-life law to date in the United States. Preborn babies’ hearts finish forming around 7-8 weeks into pregnancy. Attorneys representing the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Iowa City’s Emma Goldman Clinic sued, and a district judge temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement a month later.
Days before the governor signed it, the bill was amended to allow exceptions for babies conceived in rape if reported within 45 days, babies conceived in incest if the incest is reported within 140 days, or fetal abnormalities deemed “incompatible with life,” all of which were grouped under the banner of “medically necessary.”
On Saturday, the pro-life group Save the 1 announced it was filing a motion as “necessary third party intervenors of right” in the case, in the hopes of getting the “medically necessary” exceptions stricken from the bill as a violation of the affected babies’ rights to life, due process, and equal protection under the law.
The motion would not threaten the core of the heartbeat law, as severability language prevents the invalidation of some sections from automatically invalidating other parts of the same law. “We are big advocates of the heartbeat bill without exceptions,” Save the 1 founder and president Rebecca Kiessling told LifeSiteNews in an interview. “Save The 1 intervening is not going to affect the underlying case at all.”
Representing the case will be Kiessling, Great Lakes Justice Center constitutional attorney Erin Mersino, and Personhood Iowa board member and attorney Eric Borseth.
“If I can't defend my own right to life in court, then what is the point of being a pro-life attorney?” asked Kiessling, a nationally-recognized pro-life speaker who was conceived in rape. “I was protected by Michigan law when my birth mother sought to kill me at two illegal abortions. As a rape victim, she was not offered any help or hope -- just abortion. My life was spared for a purpose, and for such a time as this I will use my life, my talents, my expertise and law degree to save others.”
Kiessling and Save the 1 specialize in speaking on behalf of preborn babies conceived in rape, and she notes that classifying the rape exception as “medically necessary” further compounds the injustice by suggesting “we are somehow medically harming our mothers -- furthering the notion that we are somehow the ones raping our mothers. But we are entirely innocent and we plead our innocence.”
One of the group’s main arguments is that the legislature failed to even attempt to establish a rational basis for deeming the exceptions “medically necessary,” calling no witnesses to testify in support of the claim. Instead, Save the 1 argues that the last-minute amendment was purely a political decision, meant to attract legislators hesitant to cast a “yes” vote. Such political considerations are “not going to qualify as a rational basis, Kiessling said.
“Children conceived in rape are not considered to be a protected class, so we wouldn’t be entitled to strict scrutiny under the law. But the state still has to demonstrate a rational basis,” she explained. “Even if we’re not a protected class, if you’re being denied equal protection, then the state still has to show a rational basis, and there’s no way that they can. There’s no legislative record for it."
Kiessling noted that the language has an even bigger problem when it comes to fetal abnormalities, as children with disabilities are an expressly protected class. “So there’s actually under the law a higher level of scrutiny [for them], it’s called ‘strict scrutiny,’ and the state would have to demonstrate a compelling government interest that would somehow justify this discrimination,” she said. “And there’s no way, again.”
“The targeting of our people groups for exclusion of protection, and in fact, for state-approved killing is clearly discriminatory,” added Save the 1 speakers Brad and Jesi Smith, whose daughter Faith was born with Trisomy 18. “Using terminology such as ‘fetal abnormality’ or ‘incompatible with life’ as classifications for children with disability is deceiving and treacherous treatment from a government which claims its citizens have equal protection under the law.”
The Smiths explained that Save the 1 members have been told by doctors that children they refused to abort have “already outlived her life expectancy,” will not be resuscitated, and even that “the only further testing you will receive is an autopsy.”
“The clear expectation and even obligation is to abort,” they said. “The Iowa legislature has now codified this deadly discrimination.”
Kiessling also warned that the heartbeat law’s uses of “rape,” “incest,” “fetal abnormality,” and “incompatible with life” aren’t defined or cross-referenced with other sections of the Iowa code, as is standard practice. “So it’s up to the abortion clinic to decide,” she said. “To me, it’s like as long as you say the secret password, ‘rape,’ wink wink, you get your abortion.”
The Coalition for Life, an alliance of Iowa's leading pro-life organizations, actively worked alongside Save the 1 to prevent the final bill from including exceptions, though they generally embraced the final bill. Other Iowa pro-life leaders have yet to weigh in on Save the 1’s legal challenge.
“I really believe our action is going to be a game-changer. Not just in Iowa, but I’m hoping nationally,” Kiessling told LifeSiteNews. “Legislators are used to us just laying down and playing dead, not doing anything. But the status quo has changed,” and hopefully “legislators can be on alert that the status quo is no longer acceptable.”
“I feel that we’re helping the pro-life movement in Iowa,” Kiessling concluded, “and who better to advocate against the exceptions than those of us who are the exceptions, the living survivors of the exceptions.”
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