Iowa Supreme Court Reverses Protections for Abortion Under State Constitution

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Photo Source: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during a press conference. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall File)

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court, made up mostly of Republican appointees, reversed an earlier ruling guaranteeing the right to abortion under the state’s constitution. Under this new decision, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Iowa would then have an easier, legal pathway to ban the procedure throughout the state.

Iowa has an interesting recent history with its legislation over the right to an abortion. In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a mandated 72-hour waiting period for women before receiving the procedure. They ruled that the restriction was unconstitutional and could ultimately prevent a woman from getting a legal, safe abortion. The lawsuit was originally filed by Planned Parenthood of Iowa and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa arguing that the right to abortion was a privacy right protected by the state’s Constitution and federal law.

The judge that overturned the 2018 law found that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” therefore guaranteeing the right under state law.

Then in 2020, in a move that Planned Parenthood called a “Groundhog Day” event, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds enacted a law that required a 24-hour waiting period. Planned Parenthood filed another lawsuit, this time claiming that the law violated due process and equal protection of rights because it was “passed in the middle of the night without public debate.”

Ultimately, in 2021 an Iowa judge blocked that 24- hour waiting period legislation because it was passed as an amendment to an unrelated bill. Iowa’s constitution mandates single subjects for each law being passed and debated.

In this latest reversal of decisions on Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court found that there was “no violation of the single-subject rule,” cited by the 2021 Iowa judge and that the law to which the 24-hour waiting period was added was also health-related and also on “medical procedures.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule against upholding Roe v. Wade after leaked court documents showed a majority of the Court found the earlier decision unconstitutional. If this happens, it is estimated that 26 states are likely to ban abortions in their states, limiting the access to the procedures for more than half of the women in the United States.

Currently, Mississippi has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country with only one licensed abortion facility in the entire state.

Abortions are allowed at this facility up to 16 weeks of pregnancy, and any woman seeking to obtain an abortion must visit the clinic twice before they can receive the procedure.

Iowa, on the other hand, bans abortions after 20 weeks and does not have a “trigger law.” These “trigger laws” are mechanisms that thirteen states have already adopted that would ban abortions immediately if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.

While some states are enforcing more bans and more restrictions on access to legal and safe abortions, other states, such as California, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland, are proposing legislation that would protect those rights. California, for example, is trying to pass a package of bills that would make the state a “refuge” for women who cannot obtain abortions elsewhere.

A Pew Research Center study found that 67% of Americans believe that abortions should be legal either all or most of the time. The study also followed the number of abortions performed every year since the passage of Roe v. Wade. The number of procedures performed reached its highest level in the early 1990s and has generally decreased since then.

Interestingly, 9.3% of all abortions performed in 2019 were for women who resided in a different state than where the abortion occurred. In contrast, in 1972, before the Roe v. Wade decision, this percentage was much higher at 41%, showing a possibility of what obtaining a legal and safe abortion might be like should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Haley Larkin
Haley Larkin
Haley is a freelance writer and creator with a focus on law and politics. She has a Master’s from American University in International Relations and currently works in labor relations and collective bargaining rights.