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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
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Abortion Waiting Period Struck Down in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Friday that the state’s abortion law mandating a 72-hour waiting period is an unconstitutional burden on women.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Friday that the state’s abortion law mandating a 72-hour waiting period is an unconstitutional burden on women.

Writing for the majority in a 67-page opinion, Chief Justice Mark Cady said, “We conclude the statute enacted by our Legislature, while intended as a reasonable regulation, violates both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution because its restrictions on women are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state.”

The state’s highest court found that while Iowa has a legitimate interest in informing women about abortion, the statute “does not meaningfully serve that objective.”

“Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” Cady wrote. “At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty. We therefore hold, under the Iowa Constitution, that implicit in the concept of ordered liberty is the ability to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”

Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed the law in 2017 that requires women seeking an abortion to make a trip to a health care center to receive an ultrasound test and get state-mandated information about abortion and then wait at least 72 hours before returning to the center to have the abortion.

The law was intended to make sure pregnant women had enough information to make an informed choice, and also gave women the option to hear a fetal heartbeat before deciding on whether to get an abortion.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and its medical director Dr. Jill Meadows immediately filed a petition for injunctive relief last year against Iowa and the state Board of Medicine challenging the constitutionality of the abortion law’s restrictions.

The Iowa Supreme Court justices applied a strict-scrutiny standard and declared that it is a fundamental right for a woman to decide to terminate a pregnancy. The three-day delay imposed by the law would place particular burdens on low-income women and victims of domestic abuse, the ruling states.

The court departed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s undue-burden standard used in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, saying it offers judges little guidance.

According to the Iowa Supreme Court, adopting that standard “would relegate the individual rights of Iowa women to something less than fundamental.”

Justice Edward Mansfield, whose name has appeared on President Donald Trump’s list of potential candidates for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote a dissenting opinion. He was joined by Justice Thomas Waterman.

Mansfield said Iowa’s abortion statute raises substantive due process concerns, but he said there are two sides of the abortion ledger.

“The fact that there are two profound concerns — a woman’s autonomy over her body and human life — has to drive any fair-minded constitutional analysis of the problem,” he wrote. (Emphasis in original.)

Mansfield said the majority’s ruling minimizes the anti-abortion position.

“To be clear,” he wrote, “many if not most abortion opponents view it as ending a life.”

Under the strict-scrutiny standard applied by the majority, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the statute is not “narrowly tailored” enough to justify the state’s goal.

“The imposition of a waiting period may have seemed like a sound means to accomplish the state’s purpose of promoting potential life,” Cady wrote, “but as demonstrated by the evidence, the purpose is not advanced. Instead, an objective review of the evidence shows that women do not change their decision to have an abortion due to a waiting period.”

Last September, a Polk County judge ruled that the law did not pose an unfair burden on women seeking an abortion, but the Iowa Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction the following month barring enforcement of the abortion law while the justices heard the appeal.

Friday's 5-2 decision in the state's highest court strikes down the waiting-period language in the statute.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who was named as a defendant in the case, said in a statement that she was disappointed with the ruling.

“Often, women are in crisis when facing this decision, and it’s a decision that can impact them for the rest of their lives,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think it is unreasonable to require 72 hours for someone to weigh their options and the important decision they are about to make.”

Meannwhile, Suzanna deBaca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said she was “elated.”

“No matter what [Reynolds] or her allies in the Legislature throw at us, Planned Parenthood will continue to stand up for Iowa women,” deBaca said in a statement. “We will do all we can to make sure everyone who needs an abortion continues to have access to safe, legal health care – no matter what.”

Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, called the ruling “a tremendous victory.”

“This is a very important, happy day for women’s freedom and equality in Iowa. The court based its decision on its recognition that women’s equality and freedom is intrinsically tied to her ability to make her own decisions about her body and whether to become a parent,” Bettis said.

Although the waiting-period abortion law was at that time considered one of the strictest in the nation, the Iowa Legislature went even further this spring by passing another bill banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can happen at about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women are aware they are pregnant.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and another Iowa abortion provider sued over that law as well. A state judge issued a temporary injunction postponing enforcement of the fetal-heartbeat law while the case is tried in Polk County District Court.

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Categories / Appeals, Health, Law

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