Iowa's Abortion Ban Won't Get The State Attorney General's Backing Because It's That Extreme

Iowa's new, extreme anti-abortion law has sparked national controversy — and its already led to a lawsuit. On Tuesday, CNN reported that the state's attorney general said he won't defendIowa's anti-abortion law in court, which bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, because he says the law hurts women's rights.

According to Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, the state's Attorney General Tom Miller's decision to recuse himself from defending the anti-abortion law is based on his "determination that 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 anti-abortion bill was first signed by the state's Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in early May. Brenna Smith, press secretary for the Iowa governor's office, told CNN in an email that anti-abortion legal firm Thomas More Society will now represent Iowa "at no cost to taxpayers." Smith added, "We knew there would be a legal fight, but it's a fight worth having to protect innocent life."

The bill, known as Senate File 359, bars medical physicians from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in medical emergencies. (Medical experts have debunked the "fetal heartbeat" benchmark as they say it is based on a misunderstanding of fetal development.) Soon after the Republican-controlled Iowa legislature passed the bill, Planned Parenthood and the Iowa chapter of the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the statute.

While criticizing the ban as extreme, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Dawn Laguens said in a statement, "This dangerous law decimates a woman’s right to control her life at the most basic level, including whether and when to become a parent. Enough is enough." Laguens added that Reynolds "has no right to impose her beliefs on Iowa women."

It doesn't seem like Reynolds is surprised by the backlash that the ban has created. Soon after the state's governor signed the bill into law, Reynolds released a statement in which she said that she expected the law to prompt legal challenges. "I understand and anticipate that this will likely be challenged in court," Reynolds said in a statement. "However, this is bigger than just a law. This is about life."

Astrid Riecken/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Medical experts have cautioned that such anti-abortion legislation is based on a dangerous and ill-informed idea of how fetuses develop. In 2017, medical physicians spoke with HuffPost and laid bare how such bills operate on a poor understanding of how fetuses grow. Rebecca Cohen, University of Colorado's assistant professor for obstetrics and gynecology, said that it's inaccurate to use "heartbeat" while discussing a fetus.

"It’s not a fully formed heart like you would understand from looking at an adult or even a young child," Cohen told HuffPost. "It’s a very early structure. We can see it on the ultrasound, but it’s not a heart, a fully developed organ, by any means."

In other words, using fetal heartbeat as a sign of fetus survival overlooks how such criterion is unable to predict whether a fetus will even survive or not. In fact, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that it was normal for women to miscarry in spite of documented cardiac activity in the fetus.

Miller's decision to recuse himself from defending Iowa's narrow abortion window has been praised by pro-choice advocates. "We commend Attorney General Tom Miller for standing up for a woman's right to control her own body, and decide for herself whether and when to become a parent," Planned Parenthood's Laguens said in a statement. "Not only is this ban blatantly unconstitutional, it's also extremely harmful to women."