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How are Iowa abortion laws affected by the U.S. Supreme Court's overturn of Roe v. Wade?

·8 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn several federal abortion protections does not immediately change Iowa's laws, but it clears the way for state lawmakers to pass and enforce more restrictions on abortion.

The court's Friday decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, overturned the landmark abortion rights cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey that established a constitutional right to abortion.

"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives," the decision said. 

Friday's decision was the second major blow to Iowa abortion protections this month: The Iowa Supreme Court ruled June 17 that the state constitution does not protect a fundamental right to an abortion, overturning its own 2018 precedent.

In tandem, the two court decisions will make it easier for anti-abortion lawmakers in Iowa to pass new restrictions on the procedure without courts blocking them.

More: With Roe v. Wade overturned, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds vows to protect 'every unborn Iowan'

Is abortion still legal in Iowa?

Yes. Abortion remains legal in Iowa following the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Several states, including Iowa neighbors South Dakota and Missouri, have passed "trigger laws" to immediately ban abortion upon the federal overturn of Roe v. Wade. But with the state Supreme Court's abortion rights precedent still in place when the Iowa legislative session ended May 25, Iowa does not have such a measure.

Abortion is not entirely unrestricted in Iowa. State law forbids abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Patients are required to undergo an ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the fetus before receiving an abortion.

And there has been one more change since the June 17 Iowa Supreme Court decision. The court's ruling involved a 2020 Iowa law, set aside during appeal, that requires a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. A Johnson County district court had rejected the waiting period based on the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that found a fundamental right to abortion in the state constitution. After overturning that precedent June 17, the state Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court for reconsideration, a move that will allow the waiting period requirement to take effect, at least in the short term.

The Iowa Attorney General's Office has said the waiting period does not kick in until the case formally moves to the lower court from the Supreme Court, 21 days after the ruling. But Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in Iowa, adopted a 24-hour waiting period between an initial appointment and the procedure after the state court decision.

More: Is there a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in Iowa? Planned Parenthood, ACLU say yes.

A map of abortion access by U.S. state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.
A map of abortion access by U.S. state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

What happens next for Iowa abortion laws?

There's one more court decision to watch for this summer, by the district court where the Iowa Supreme Court sent the 24-hour waiting period law for reconsideration.

The district court, which takes ownership of the case in early July, will determine if the waiting period stays permanently in effect.

What is the legal standard that abortion laws must meet in Iowa?

It's not clear what legal standard Iowa courts will apply when considering whether new restrictions on abortion are constitutional.

For now, the Iowa Supreme Court has said the "undue burden" standard will apply, meaning if an abortion restriction placed a substantial burden on patients, it would be struck down. But the court said June 17 it is open to reconsidering the legal standard in a future case.

Laws that restrict a fundamental right, like freedom of speech or freedom of religion, are held to a higher legal standard in the U.S. than other laws.

Since the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that found abortion was a fundamental right, abortion laws in Iowa were held to the highest standard. Laws had to withstand "strict scrutiny," meaning any policy restricting abortion had to be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. That standard has blocked several restrictive laws from taking effect.

The Iowa Supreme Court overturned the strict scrutiny standard on June 17, but said "we do not at this time decide what constitutional standard should replace it." The standard in Iowa courts does not have to match the federal standard.

Federally, the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey said the "undue burden" standard should be used when considering abortion laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Casey in Friday's decision, arguing the undue burden standard was "unworkable."

Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court said restrictions on abortion should be considered using a "rational basis" test — one of the most permissive judicial standards.

"A law regulating abortion, like other health and welfare laws, is entitled to a 'strong presumption of validity,'" Friday's decision reads. "It must be sustained if there is a rational basis on which the legislature could have thought that it would serve legitimate state interests."

Will Iowa ban abortion?

Republicans have been clear they aim to further restrict abortion in Iowa, but their specific plans for future abortion laws are unclear.

Republican majorities in Iowa have previously passed legislation to require a three-day waiting period and to prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Courts blocked those laws, and they did not take effect.

But lawmakers may push for similar — or more restrictive — legislation when they next convene at the Capitol.

Could there be a special session for new Iowa abortion laws?

The regular session is scheduled to begin in January 2023, but Gov. Kim Reynolds has the power to summon lawmakers back earlier if she chooses.

Lawmakers could also call themselves back for a special session with the approval of two-thirds of the members of the Iowa House and Senate, but Republicans lack the votes to do so on their own.

Reynolds has previously declined to say whether she would consider calling state lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special legislative session, and she did not immediately say Friday whether she would do so. But she made clear she supports more laws limiting abortion.

"The fight for life is not over," she said. "As governor, I won’t rest until every unborn Iowan is protected and respected."

More: 'The fight for life is not over': Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa leaders react to Roe v. Wade overturn

Legislative leaders took a similar tack on Friday, praising the court's decision but declining to offer specific plans.

"As a pro-life caucus, Senate Republicans have led on the protection of life and will continue to do so," said Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. "We look forward to continuing to advance the cause of the unborn."

Planned Parenthood: 'Our doors are open'

Planned Parenthood North Central States, which serves several Midwest states, including Iowa, said it will remain open and continue offering services in the wake of the decision.

"Abortion remains safe and legal in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, and today’s decision will have no impact on patient care in those states," the organization said in a statement Friday. "Our doors remain open."

Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, called the Supreme Court's decision "an unconscionable rollback of fundamental rights."

More: 'Our doors remain open' in Iowa, Planned Parenthood says after U.S. Supreme Court abortion decision

"We have been preparing for months to be able to best serve patients across our region," Stoesz said in a statement. "Our doors are open and Planned Parenthood is committed to providing abortion care where it remains legal."

In North Dakota and South Dakota, Planned Parenthood said trigger laws will soon ban abortion. The group said it has stopped scheduling abortion appointments in South Dakota, although its Sioux Falls health center remains open for birth control, IUDs and other health care services. The organization does not operate a health center in North Dakota.

Polling finds most Iowans believe abortion should remain legal

In a September 2021 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, a majority of Iowans, 57%, said that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 38% said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Five percent weren't sure.

Breaking down those results further, 20% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in all cases, while 36% said it should be legal in most cases. Meanwhile, 25% said abortion should be illegal in most cases and 13% said it should be illegal in all cases.

March 2021 Iowa Poll found fewer than one third of Iowans supported the Legislature's push to amend the Iowa Constitution to say it does not recognize a right to abortion. That poll found 31% in support of the amendment, 58% opposed and 11% not sure.

Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at kakin@registermedia.com or at 410-340-3440. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: How abortion in Iowa is impacted by Roe v. Wade overturn by SCOTUS