Pro-life advocates say they were prepared for a court battle.
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union's Iowa branch said they sued on Tuesday to stop a state law that would impose the strictest abortion limits in the United States from taking effect.
Nearly immediately, the state's attorney general said he would not defend the law. "In the 45 years since Roe, no federal or state court has upheld such a risky law".
Gov. Reynolds' spokesperson Brenna Smith said the state will be represented by the Thomas More Society "at no cost to taxpayers".
"We knew there would be a legal fight, but it's a fight worth having to protect innocent life", Smith said.
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In 2015, the state's high court unanimously struck down rules enacted by the Iowa Board of Medicine that effectively banned the remote distribution of an abortion-inducing pill using a video conferencing system known as "telemedicine".
The law contains certain ultrasound requirements, though Tuesday's lawsuit only challenges the heartbeat ban portion of the law. If a heartbeat is detected, a physician could perform an abortion only in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality prior to the 20th week of gestation, but only if the women reports the rape within 45 days or incest within 140 days.
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.
The Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City, an abortion provider, is also a co-plaintiff in the case. Last week, she said when referring to the new law, "I have had very positive feedback". "We will not back down until every person has the freedom and opportunity to make the health care decisions that are best for them and their families".
Iowa is now in court defending a 2017 abortion law that imposes a 72-hour mandatory waiting period and an additional trip requirement for women seeking an abortion.
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.
Abortion opponents hope such a lawsuit could bring the divisive abortion issue back before the U.S. Supreme Court in the belief that the 5-4 conservative majority could curtail abortion access or ban it outright.