Iowa Judge Blocks 24-Hour Wait Period for Abortions

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference in Des Moines on June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, Pool)

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — An Iowa judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked enforcement of a new state law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion while the court hears a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood challenging the restriction.

Johnson County District Judge Mitchell Turner issued the injunction that had been sought by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in its lawsuit arguing that the state law passed June 14 requiring women to wait a full day before obtaining an abortion violates the equal protection provision of the Iowa Constitution.

“This court is bound by Iowa precedent,” Judge Turner wrote, “including the standards clearly set forth” by the Iowa Supreme Court in a 2018 decision holding that previous legislation mandating a 72-hour waiting period violated constitutional due process and equal protection rights.

Planned Parenthood argues that the shortened waiting period still imposes the same roadblocks for Iowa women that were found to be unconstitutional just two years ago.

The legislation requiring the 24-hour waiting period was signed into law Monday by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and would have become effective Wednesday had the injunction not been issued.

In signing the bill into law, Governor Reynolds said in a statement: “I am proud to stand up for the sanctity of every human life. Life is precious, life is sacred, and we can never stop fighting for it. I applaud the Iowa lawmakers who had the courage to stand strong and take action to protect the unborn child.”

The governor said at a press conference Tuesday the state would “work vigorously” to defend the constitutionality of the new law.

Planned Parenthood officials were pleased with Tuesday’s ruling.

“We’re glad that patients can seek abortion care without the burden of a state-mandated delay and extra appointment,” said Erin Davison-Rippey, Iowa Executive Director of Planned Parenthood North Central States. “I want to be sure all Iowans know their access to safe, legal abortion remains the same. Many of our patients drive hours to their appointments, and to require a second, medically unnecessary visit creates serious obstacles. Many must take off time from work, arrange and pay for child care, and find transportation and this law would add more barriers to necessary health care in the middle of a pandemic. Iowans need improved access to sexual and reproductive health care, especially now. We’ll keep fighting to make that happen.”

The Iowa General Assembly, with all Republicans in favor and all but one Democrats opposed, passed an amendment in the early hours of the final day of the session that would require women seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours after an initial appointment and make a trip to a health center to receive an ultrasound and state-mandated materials.

In pushing back on the injunction request, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office argued the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case and the state would likely succeed on the merits. Judge Turner disagreed on both counts.

In addition to constitutional equal protection, Planned Parenthood argued the Iowa Legislature violated the state constitution’s requirement that a bill contain a single subject. The amendment containing the 24-hour waiting period was tacked onto a bill unrelated to abortion.

Turner noted that during the legislative session, the speaker of the House admitted the amendment was not germane to the underlying bill. But even if the plaintiffs fail on that issue, they are likely to succeed on the constitutional question, he wrote.

“Even if petitioners are not ultimately successful in their single subject rule argument, petitioners have established an invasion or threatened invasion of a right, on which they are likely to be successful when the merits of the action are addressed. This court is bound by Iowa precedent,” the judge wrote.

In its complaint filed in Johnson County District Court, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland argued that the amendment offers women no benefits and will “severely and abruptly burden their access to abortion.” This will be particularly burdensome for low-income women, victims of partner violence or sexual assault, or women seeking abortions that involve a severe fetal abnormality, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Inc. and Jill Meadows M.D., its medical director, names as a defendant the Iowa Board of Medicine, which would enforce the new law, in addition to the governor. It was submitted by Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

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