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Nation's most restrictive abortion law is challenged in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa | A lawsuit challenging the nation's most restrictive abortion law was filed Tuesday in Iowa, a state that for years was largely left out of Republican efforts to overturn abortion protections and where the Democratic attorney general has refused to defend the law.

If allowed to take effect on July 1 as planned, the law would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, around the sixth week of pregnancy. Abortion-rights groups say that's a time when many women do not know they are pregnant.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced the filing of the complaint in Polk County District Court in Des Moines. The lawsuit argues that the law violates the Iowa Constitution by banning nearly all abortions and putting women's health at risk. It seeks an injunction to halt the law's implementation. Litigation could take years.

Until the 2016 election, Iowa had little to no role in the broad GOP effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus is viable.

"We haven't heard much out of Iowa until the past couple of years," said state policy analyst Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that supports abortion rights and tracks abortion legislation. "It has been a very striking shift in the state Legislature, and it really shows how important state legislatures are to abortion access."

The election flipped control of the Iowa Senate, putting Republicans in charge of the Legislature and the governor's office for the first time in two decades. Up to that point, Democrats had maintained enough political power to curtail most Republican anti-abortion attempts.

Chuck Hurley is chief counsel for the Family Leader, a faith-based group in Iowa that opposes abortion. He recalled being at an election night party alongside several state lawmakers. When it became clear Republicans would win Statehouse control, Hurley said he immediately worked the room to talk about abortion legislation.

"It is very interesting that a purple state is this out front on life," Hurley said, adding, "There's a pent up pro-life effort here in Iowa."

Lawmakers adopted several abortion restrictions in 2017, including a 20-week abortion ban and a requirement that women wait three days before ending a pregnancy. The waiting provision, one of the longest in the country, is on hold because of a different lawsuit.

Separately, a new Iowa-based coalition of anti-abortion organizations was formed last year to renew efforts toward an abortion ban. The Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders, which includes Family Leader, put aside years of disagreement among the groups to help win passage of the 20-week ban and the six-week ban.

"The pro-life movement in Iowa is unified for the first time in many years," said Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, one of the coalition's groups.

Iowa Republicans last year also gave up millions in federal dollars to create a state-funded family planning program that prohibits participation from abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, the affiliate's medical director and the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City.

Shortly after the announcement of the lawsuit, Iowa's longtime attorney general said he would not defend the law. Democrat Tom Miller said the decision to remove his office from the case was based on a belief that the measure "would undermine rights and protections for women."

Miller said the Thomas More Society, a conservative Chicago-based law firm, has agreed to defend the law for free. The firm had no immediate comment.

Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said Iowa's abortion law is tied to a small group of "very extreme politicians" in the state Legislature.

"The perception of Iowa is that we have been a rational, relatively progressive state that has always valued the health of our citizens," she said. "It seems very uncharacteristic and extreme for an abortion ban of this magnitude to happen here."

The lawsuit names Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Board of Medicine as defendants. Reynolds, who signed Iowa's ban earlier this month, said at a public event in Davenport that she felt "very confident" about defending the lawsuit.

"It's about protecting life. That's the first and foremost priority," she said.


Iowa governor says dad's appointment was 'just like' others

DAVENPORT, Iowa | Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday defended her decision to appoint her 78-year-old father to a panel that helps select judges in central Iowa, saying he was "just like" many others who serve on state boards.

Reynolds last month appointed her father, Charles Strawn, to an unpaid six-year term on the District 5A judicial nominating commission, which recommends candidates for judgeships to the governor in fast-growing Dallas County and three other counties outside of Des Moines.

Democratic critics of the Republican governor and some who follow the legal system have called the appointment unusual. A recent Quad-City Times newspaper editorial called it an example of "brash nepotism."

In his April 13 application, Strawn wrote that he was "invited" to serve on the board. He was appointed four days later. The governor's office announced the appointment May 1 along with dozens of others in a press release that didn't mention that Strawn, of St. Charles, was her father.

Speaking to reporters after an event in Davenport on Tuesday, the governor said her father was a retired factory worker for John Deere and farmer.

"This is an individual that loves the state and wanted to volunteer and give back, just like hundreds of other Iowans that we appoint to boards and commissions," she said. "That's a simple fact."

Reynolds added that her dad had coached Little League baseball teams and been involved in county government.

The 11-member commission Strawn has joined will meet on Thursday in Indianola to interview finalists for an opening created by the retirement of District Judge Paul Huscher. The commission will recommend two finalists to the governor, who will make the pick.

Iowa law doesn't bar government officials from appointing relatives to unpaid jobs.


Sioux Falls School Board bans 'timeout' rooms

SIOUX FALLS | The Sioux Falls School Board has approved a rule change that bans "timeout" rooms as a form of student discipline.

The policy revision made Monday is a result of a state law passed this year that requires all districts to adopt rules banning the practice of physically restraining students and locking them in padded rooms, the Argus Leader reported. South Dakota schools have until July to update their rules.

The Sioux Falls district's move is more of a formality because its schools no longer use timeout rooms, according to school leaders.

"I know we don't have padded rooms in the district, and we certainly don't intend to have padded rooms," Superintendent Brian Maher said.

The new law prohibits educators from locking students in a room alone unless there is a "clear and present danger." Schools also must notify parents whenever a student is physically restrained or placed in seclusion.

"We're just making sure we're compliant with the state law," said Kate Parker, board president.

Micaela Boice's daughter was physically restrained and locked in a room by teachers at the now-defunct Jefferson Elementary School about five years ago. Boice pulled her daughter out of the Sioux Falls School District and transferred her to Tri-Valley public schools in Colton.

Boice believes the practice only added to her daughter's issues and said the rule change is a step in the right direction for students.

"They need positive structure and positive modeling of behaviors," Boice said. "Shoving them in a padded room isn't teaching them to properly behave."


Ex-wife of slain Iowa deputy sues for $160K for children

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa | The ex-wife of a western Iowa sheriff's deputy killed in the line of duty has filed a lawsuit against his widow and the county, claiming donations made for his children were never given to them.

Pottawattamie County Deputy Mark Burbridge died in May 2017 after inmate Wesley Correa-Carmenaty shot him while attempting to escape. Sheriff Sgt. Jason LeMaster and the county started the Mark Burbridge Memorial Fund after his death, collecting more than $160,000 in donations.

Sara Reinsch, the deputy's ex-wife, filed a petition on March 29, alleging that the public was told the funds would go toward Burbridge's children, The Daily Nonpareil reported. Reinsch and Burbridge, who divorced in 2012, had two children together and cared for another minor while they were married, according to the lawsuit.

Reinsch was denied access to the fund's bank statements, and only Burbridge's widow, Jessica Burbridge, was allowed access to the account, the petition said.

"Jessica has now depleted the fund and taken all the money meant to assist Mark's children following his death, leaving them nothing after openly exploiting them for personal gain," the lawsuit alleged.

Jessica Burbridge said the donated money wasn't specifically declared for the children, according to court records.

She denies exploiting the children and alleges she's helped them collect various benefits, including a $400,000 life insurance policy. She said the children will also receive $171,000 from the Department of Justice and $8,000 from the Homicide Survivor's Group.

Reinsch's attorney, Edward Keane, said Jessica Burbridge's response had inaccuracies and that the children aren't beneficiaries of the life insurance policy.


20 AGs back lawsuits by family planning groups against Trump

LOS ANGELES | Twenty attorneys general voiced their support Tuesday for lawsuits challenging Trump administration rule changes they said will reduce access to family planning services.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the president is playing politics with patients by changing rules that would shift federal family planning funds toward organizations that stress abstinence.

The AGs filed a brief in Washington federal court that supports lawsuits by groups that promote birth control.

The lawsuits target proposed rule changes announced in February by the Department of Health and Human Services for about $260 million in family planning grants.

In a funding document, the agency made favorable mention of "natural family planning" that includes the rhythm method and other strategies to avoid pregnancy without using birth control. It also said it would favor abstinence messages for adolescents.

About 4 million low-income Americans receive subsidized services through the Title X family-planning program.

Planned Parenthood groups in Wisconsin, Ohio and Utah, and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association filed the lawsuits saying the rule change violated terms of the Title X statute Congress adopted with bipartisan support in 1970.

"By changing the rules, the Trump administration is threatening basic access to essential health care for women and families throughout the country," Becerra said. "They're shrinking the universe of services that a woman or family can access — having nothing to do with what's related to wise health care choices."

The supporting brief was also signed by prosecutors in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.