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Gov. Kim Reynolds signs one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws into effect during the Family Leadership Summit on July 14, 2023. — via the governor’s office

Abortions under almost any circumstances became illegal in Iowa on Friday afternoon, as soon as Gov, Kim Reynolds signed HF 732 into law. The bill bans almost all abortions after any cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo by an ultrasound probe. There are narrow and burdensome exceptions for rape and incest victims, as well as exemptions for cases where the embryo or fetus has a condition “incompatible with life,” the life of the patient is in immediate danger, or continuing the pregnancy would pose a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” for the patient. (The new law specifically prohibits consideration of the mental health impact of the pregnancy.)

Doctors are supposed to exercise “reasonable medical judgment,” but doctors won’t have any guidance on what constitutes “reasonable,” or what conditions can clearly qualify for a medical exemption until the Iowa Board of Medicine creates rules for HF 732, as the new law mandates.

The confusion created by the new law could have been partially ameliorated if the legislature had made it go into effect after the rules were created. But instead, they chose to include a provision supported by the governor that made it take effect as soon as Reynolds signed on Friday, July 14.

Ban Off Our Bodies demonstrators gathered at the Iowa State Capitol to take a stand against a restrictive new abortion law being considered during a special session of the Iowa Legislature, July 11, 2023. — Courtney Guein/Little Village

That provision was bad for the health of pregnant Iowans, but politically advantageous for the governor.

Reynolds signed the bill during an appearance at the annual “summit” meeting of an organization of politically active rightwing evangelical Christians, the Family Leader. The Family Leader has been a major supporter of Reynolds, and she has pushed many of the group’s priorities — such as diverting public school funds to private schools, enacting anti-transgender policies and effectively banning almost all abortions — into law.

During Reynolds’ appearance, she kept referring to the new law as a “fetal heartbeat” law, as she has done consistently since she signed an earlier version of it in 2018. (That version was struck down as unconstitutional by a state district court judge.) Although promoters of such bans commonly use that phrase, it is a dishonest distortion of what such bans do.

An ultrasound can typically detect cardiac activity at six weeks into a pregnancy, sometimes as early as four weeks, but there is no “heartbeat” because the heart hasn’t formed yet, and at this stage the embryo has not yet become a fetus. That neither part of the governor’s preferred term is accurate hasn’t damaged its effectiveness as an advertising slogan.

Since the name given to the new law was a deliberate distortion of the truth, it’s not surprising that Gov. Reynolds’ remarks at the Family Leader event contained many other such distortions. But one of them was still notable.

“With almost no exceptions, Democrats believe in abortion on demand up until the very moment of birth,” Reynolds told the crowd. “And so, for the media here today, if you think I’m wrong, then just ask them.”

This is, of course, a lie. Even restricting the possible definition of “Democrats” to elected officials from that party, it is still a lie. But it is one frequently repeated on Fox News and rightwing talk radio, so it has become an article of faith among certain conservatives. A large enough group that Reynolds feels comfortable repeating this obvious lie in public.

While Reynolds was speaking at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, elsewhere in Des Moines, a Polk County District Court was hearing argument in a legal challenge to the new law brought by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of the Emma Goldman Clinic, Planned Parenthood North Central States (PPNCS) and Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for PPNCS. They are seeking a temporary injunction, prohibiting the state from enforcing the new law while a lawsuit challenging it is working its way through the courts.

At the conclusion of the 75-minute hearing on Friday, Judge Joseph Seidlin said he would not be issuing a ruling from the bench.

“I can’t think of anything that would be more insulting to either side for a judge — who, before Wednesday at 11 o’clock, had no idea that he was going to be involved in any of this — to listen to arguments and then rule from the bench … so flippantly without giving it any thought,” Seidlin said.

The judge said he anticipated issuing his decision on a preliminary injunction either on Monday or Tuesday.