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Court fight over Iowa’s new ‘heartbeat’ abortion law begins

DES MOINES — On the day earlier this month Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a “fetal heartbeat” bill banning most abortions into law, abortion-rights advocates vowed they would see her in court to challenge the prohibition.

Tuesday, they made good on that promise.

Representatives from Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City held a joint news conference to announce they are challenging the constitutionality of Senate File 359, a measure slated to take effect July 1 that would outlaw most abortions in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected — normally after about six weeks of pregnancy.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Polk County District Court.

“This abortion ban is beyond extreme,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director. “In the 45 years since (Roe v. Wade), no federal or state court has upheld such a dangerous law.”

Bettis said the trio of groups is bringing the legal action in state court because the organizations believe Iowa’s constitutional protections for abortion rights set out in an earlier telemedicine case before the Iowa Supreme Court are “as strong if not more so” than the federal constitution. The groups’ attorneys will argue that the new abortion law violates equal protection clauses and women’s fundamental right to safe and legal abortion without “unnecessary interference by the government.”

They are seeking to have the law struck down as unconstitutional and requesting a temporary injunction be issued with an expedited hearing within 14 days as the case progresses.

“The complaint presents the medical facts that this law will make safe and legal abortion virtually disappear in Iowa,” said Alice Clapman, an attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America who will act as co-counsel with Bettis.

Advocates of what is considered to be the most restrictive abortion law in the country, which Reynolds signed May 4, say they expected the legislation to be challenged in court and are hoping the ensuing legal battle will be a vehicle to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

“The lawsuit was expected, and the growing pro-life movement isn’t deterred by it,” said Drew Zahn, director of communications for the Family Leader organization. “In fact, we welcome the courts hearing the debate on the question of when life begins. It’s long overdue that America looked at the evidence and recognized that the little child in her mother’s womb … she’s a baby.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, previously indicated his office would disqualify itself and not represent the state in defense of the “heartbeat” law if a legal challenge was filed.

Tuesday, Republican Reynolds said the Thomas More Society, a faith-based legal organization based in Chicago, would represent her and the Iowa Board of Medicine as defendants at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.

“We feel very confident moving forward with it,” said Reynolds, who talked to reporters in Davenport after a Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce luncheon, “and so it’s important that, first of all, this is about life, it’s about protecting life and that’s first and foremost the priority, and we have somebody that has agreed to represent us and do it at no cost to the taxpayers.”

The legislation would require doctors to conduct an abdominal ultrasound to test for a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected, a physician could perform an abortion except in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality. The law would allow abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy in cases of rape if a women reports the crime within 45 days and in case of incest if the crime is reported within 140 days.

The bill does not specify criminal or civil penalties for those breaking the law. Earlier versions had called for felony charges against doctors, but not women seeking an abortion.

Critics of the bill argued it was poorly written with vague language creating uncertainty for doctors making medical decisions in the best interests of their patients, and would not pass constitutional muster — and, further, that it was offered only as a way to get the abortion issue back before the U.S. Supreme Court with the stated goal of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

“We think it’s extreme and outrageous,” said Francine Thompson, co-director of the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, the first outpatient abortion clinic in the state.

Thompson told reporters the new law would be an “almost-complete ban” on abortions, as only about 2 percent of the abortions at her clinic are performed at or before the sixth week of a pregnancy.

“It’s a law that has been passed by politicians who are out of touch with the reality of women’s lives,” Thompson said. “We want politicians out of women’s lives and out of the exam room. This law must be struck down.”

Suzanna de Baca, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, called the “fetal heartbeat” provision a “de facto ban” on legal abortion that “would be the most-restrictive abortion ban in the country” if it were allowed to take effect.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa previously brought a legal challenge to the constitutionality of a 72-hour waiting period for a woman to obtain an abortion that was approved during the 2017 legislative session and signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad.

The Iowa Supreme Court is expect to rule on that case in the near future.

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Tulip Festival set to begin
GALLAGHER: Tulips in time -- Orange City ablaze in color as new bulb shop owner digs in

ORANGE CITY, Iowa -- A spring determined to skip Siouxland promises to rank among the most colorful in the Sioux County seat as the 78th annual Orange City Tulip Festival blooms Thursday through Saturday.

This Tulip Festival rates most memorable -- even before it sprouts -- for Keri Drescher, new owner/operator of Tulip Town Bulb Company, the shop that raises an array of tulips while pedaling bulbs imported from the Netherlands.

Most memorable? For a few reasons.

For Drescher, this is her first Tulip Festival as a business owner. She landed at one of the city's focal points, in one reason, because of a progressive genetic eye disease that has left her legally blind. The Tulip Time Bulb Co., which she purchased four months ago, represents something she can do from the comfort of her small shop and sprawling yard near downtown Orange City.

The business, more or less, came with the four-bedroom home she and husband, Dan Drescher, purchased last July from Brett and Nora Mulder, who resided here and ran Tulip Time Bulb Company for years. The Mulders, who built up the business, relocated to a condo in town.

"We were interested in the business as it's something I could do with my vision," Keri Drescher said from the shop that stands a few feet from the deck serving the south side of their home. "We figured that by running this business we'd also get really involved in and could serve our community."

The community is what brought the Dreschers here in the first place, not a business opportunity.

Keri said the couple raised their children in Winona, Minnesota, but struggled in finding a church and a school for their children. While sharing their concerns, a pair of friends, Jim and Peggy Subart, who had relocated to Orange City, spoke to the Dreschers about life in this growing city of 6,200 residents.

"We read about Orange City and really liked what we learned," said Keri, a native of Detroit, Michigan. "Before then, I'd never heard of Orange City."

She and Dan came to town in December 2015 to examine job prospects, already knowing this is where they'd relocate. Dan, an immigrant from England, now works for Edward D. Jones out of the Le Mars, Iowa, office.

The couple resided in nearby Alton, Iowa, for one year until moving three to four miles west and setting up shop in the former Mulder home, as Keri's weakening vision necessitated a move to Orange City.

"We loved our house in Alton, but Dan said we should look for a home in Orange City," she said. "At the time, I had a restrictive license and we thought it might be best if were in Orange City. This home is perfect in its central location for me; two blocks from our church, Cornerstone Baptist Church, two blocks from school and two blocks from the grocery store."

One week after their move here last July, Keri lost her license as her eye doctor couldn't sign off on her driving, due to the advancement of her macular corneal dystrophy, a rare condition diagnosed in her at age 14.

While Dan is at work and daughters Sarah, 16, and Emma, 11, are at school (daughter Kaila, 21, attends school and works in Minnesota), Keri educates herself on all things tulips. She's learned that Orange City's favorite flowers are hardy, something even beginning green-thumbs can grow. Her favorite varieties are the Van Eijks, a pretty-in-pink treat that emerged in time for the festival, and the Red Novas, a double-peony she ordered as gifts last year and had them sent to friends in Michigan.

On Thursday and Friday, the Dutch distributor for Tulip Town Bulb Co., Piet Stuifbergen, will join the Mulders in assisting Drescher in her first official Tulip Festival as a shop owner. The "rookie" will do her part by donning a Gelderland dress made by Allyn Tock, another newcomer to Orange City and fellow member of Cornerstone Baptist Church.

"We have prayed a lot that the weather would turn and the tulips would be showing," Keri Drescher said as she examined flower beds in one of Northwest Iowa's most-visited lawns, a green space soaking up a warm shower early in the week, mere hours before the start of a color festival that celebrates this community and its Dutch heritage. "God is answering our prayers. It'll be perfect this year."

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Ricketts and Krist, Fischer and Raybould advance to Nebraska general election


Nebraska's marquee races for governor and U.S. Senate shook out as expected Tuesday after polls closed for the state's primary election.

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts easily won his party's nomination, and Democratic voters chose State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha to oppose him in November's general election.

In the race for U.S. Senate, Lincoln City Councilwoman Jane Raybould secured the Democratic nomination and will challenge Republican Sen. Deb Fischer this fall.

Key primaries in Nebraska's congressional districts remained too close to call at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

In Omaha, Democrat Kara Eastman was locked in a tight race with former Congressman Brad Ashford, which will determine who moves on to challenge Republican Rep. Don Bacon in the competitive 2nd Congressional District.

Jessica McClure held an early lead over Dennis Crawford in another two-person matchup between Democrats vying for U.S. House, in the Lincoln-centric 1st District. The winner of that primary will go on to challenge Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

Rep. Adrian Smith led in the 3rd District Republican primary with roughly two-thirds of the vote. Paul Theobald will advance on the Democratic side.

Down the ballot, Sen. John Murante of Gretna held a steady lead over fellow Republican Taylor Royal in a race that will effectively decide the next state treasurer. No other candidates are running for the office.

Woodbury County wants new agreement if it remains in Sioux Rivers region next year

SIOUX CITY -- Woodbury County on Tuesday finalized the terms of its acceptance into a new mental health region starting July 2019, but questions remain on how mental health services will be delivered during the budget year prior to that. 

County supervisors said they are hoping to enter discussions in the coming weeks with Plymouth and Sioux counties to re-enter the Sioux Rivers Mental Health and Disability Services Group for another year, but they would need a restructured agreement with certain provisions to do so. 

The county is simultaneously waiting to hear back on an appeal to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services on whether it can deliver mental health services on its own for a year, after the director of the state agency declined the county’s request to form its own region.

"We don't know if our secondary appeal will be successful, but we're concurrently working both options because we want to leave our taxpayers and our mental health services in good accord as of July 1," Supervisor Jeremy Taylor said following Tuesday's board meeting. 

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 


His comments came after the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors approved a memorandum of understanding with the Rolling Hills Community Service Region for conditional acceptance into the region. The vote was 4-1 with Supervisor Marty Pottebaum casting the lone dissenting vote. 

The document lays out the terms under which the county will join the seven-county region on July 1, 2019. Among the terms is an obligation to contribute $1 million to the Rolling Hills region's reserve upon its entrance.

That amount, which will be in addition to its regularly scheduled payments, will put it on an equal level with the other counties, which are raising $874,000 in additional reserve.

Woodbury County is leaving the Sioux Rivers region due to a series of disagreements over management of the group. But the county may need to re-enter for one more year as a one-year stopgap before it can join the Rolling Hills group, which includes Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida counties.

Iowa requires that regional mental health groups consist of more than two counties. Sioux City has applied for an exemption from that rule but was told by IDHS director Jerry Foxhoven in April that it cannot operate on its own.  

Taylor said discussions with Sioux Rivers on the terms under which it would re-enter next year may take leadership by IDHS.

Supervisor Keith Radig stressed that a provision would be needed with Sioux Rivers to protect the additional money Woodbury County is raising for the up-front payment to the Rolling Hills region. 


Taylor Goodvin, executive director of the Taxpayers Research Council, said he agreed with Radig's concern.

Taylor Goodvin

Taylor said after the meeting that he also wishes to see assurances protecting the county against 2-1 votes and outlining the use of the Crisis Stabilization Center. 

Taylor said he's heard some question as to the legality of Woodbury County leaving the Sioux Rivers region, which will leave two counties behind rather than the required three. In response, he told the other supervisors he had read a recorded comment made by an IDHS official during an April 19 commission meeting in Des Moines that said the IDHS cannot prevent them from leaving, but that the other counties will need to figure out what they will do.