Judge Rejects Challenge to Iowa’s Abortion Waiting Period

(CN) – Ruling against Planned Parenthood, an Iowa judge found Monday that the state’s newly amended abortion law requiring a 72-hour waiting period does not impose an undue burden on women seeking the procedure.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and its medical director Dr. Jill Meadows filed a petition for injunctive relief in May against Iowa and the state Board of Medicine in Polk County District Court.

In the petition, Planned Parenthood challenged the constitutionality of Senate File 471, which imposes a 72-hour mandatory delay and additional trip requirement on women seeking to have an abortion. It was signed into law in May by former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

The clinic, backed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, called the law one of the strictest requirements in the nation on women seeking an abortion and said it would place an undue burden on patients, particularly low-income women who have to drive long distances for abortion services.

The Iowa Supreme Court ordered a temporary injunction halting enforcement of the new law only hours after it was signed.

However, Polk County Judge Jeffrey Farrell ruled Monday that Iowa’s mandatory waiting period for abortions does not violate the U.S. Constitution, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v Casey.

That ruling said Pennsylvania’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period and informed-consent requirement did not impose an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to choose an abortion.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa argued that Iowa’s 72-hour waiting period posed three times the burden as the Pennsylvania law, but Judge Farrell did not find the two extra days to be significant.

“The Iowa Act is arguably the strictest mandatory waiting period law in the country, but the only question to the court is whether it complies with the constitutional standard,” Farrell wrote in his 48-page opinion. It does.”

The judge held that the clinic and its medical director did not meet the undue-burden standard set by the nation’s highest court in Casey, even though the Iowa law would require women to make a second trip to obtain an abortion.

“The Iowa Act contains an ultrasound requirement that was not present in the Pennsylvania Act reviewed in Casey,” Farrell said. “However, the primary concern with the ultrasound requirement was that the Iowa Act would force patients to make two trips to a PPH center. … PPH performs an ultrasound as a matter of practice before it takes an abortion, so the law does not impose a requirement that PPH does not already perform.”

Farrell also pointed out that a central holding in Casey is that there is no right to an “abortion on demand.”

Casey makes clear that the issue at stake is whether the burden serves as a substantial obstacle to a woman exercising her right to choose an abortion, and not whether there are additional costs imposed,” he wrote. “There is no question that the second trip will have some impact on low-income women and those who have to drive longer distances. However, the fact that there is some burden is not dispositive if the act does not place a substantial obstacle in the way of women getting an abortion. … There will be some costs and confidentiality concerns, but these are the same concerns that were considered and rejected in Casey.”

Although the judge denied Planned Parenthood’s petition for an injunction, he stayed implementation of the law for 30 days to allow time for an appeal and for the Iowa Supreme Court to act.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa criticized the decision and said Tuesday they have filed an appeal to the state’s high court that will seek a new temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the law.

“If this law indeed goes into effect, it will leave Iowa with one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country,” Suzanna de Baca, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement. “We will fight with every available resource until we ensure that all women have access to the care they need.”

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