Iowa abortion law goes on trial
Waiting period subject of court challenge
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DES MOINES — Pregnant women in Iowa could face medically unnecessary delays, higher costs, social stigmas and other obstacles to receiving legal abortions if a new state law requiring a 72-hour wait is allowed to take effect, several medical experts testified Monday during a hearing seeking to block the law.
However, an attorney representing the state called the claims speculative. He noted Senate File 471 — signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad in May — only has been partially implemented due to an Iowa Supreme Court stay while the constitutional challenges to the waiting period is decided by the court.
“What you’re talking about is really a prediction of what might happen if it goes into effect,” Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson of the state Attorney General’s office said in challenging potential negative impacts offered as testimony by Dr. Jill Meadows, the medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
Attorneys for the state also argue regulatory agencies have a legitimate interest in regulating the medical profession in promoting public safety and protecting life.
But Meadows and Jason Burkhiser Reynolds, a Planned Parenthood health clinic manager in Des Moines, said the law was in effect briefly on May 5 — before the court intervened — and clients who had made scheduling, child care and travel commitments were angry, confused and frustrated that someone else was making their medical decisions for them.
“It was difficult,” he told District Judge Jeffrey Farrell. “My opinion is this act will greatly reduce access to abortion and it could create cases where it actually prevents a patient from getting an abortion.”
Iowa's law requires a woman to wait three days to undergo a surgical or medication abortion and to obtain an ultrasound 72 hours before her abortion — a provision opponents say requires patients to make two separate medical visits.
Other restrictions included in S.F. 471 also ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But that provision is not part of the current court challenge.
The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland — contends the measure contains provisions that are unconstitutional violations of women’s equal protection and rights to legal abortion.
While the new law requires a 72-hour wait, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s Meadows testified women actually could end up waiting a week or more due to scheduling issues and other obstacles that essentially require women to make at least two trips to a health clinic.
“I think the act would be very harmful to Iowans because it imposes a mandatory delay in their care and this can increase their medical risk as well as their out-of-pocket costs and ability to even access the abortion care,” she said. “In addition, it further stigmatizes women seeking abortion care and makes them feel ashamed and imposes somebody else’s values on their own personal medical decisions.”
Meadows, a plaintiff in the lawsuit naming Gov. Kim Reynolds and the state Board of Medicine as defendants, said under questioning from her attorney that she had been the target of harassment “by anti-abortionists in the form of emails and letters and threats and the subject of attack.” She told the judge “there’s a lot of stigma surrounding abortion care and a lot of backlash in this society.”
Meadows said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland performed more than 3,000 abortions last year. She noted the organization will close four facilities by the end of 2017 due to legislation that ends state funding to clinics that offer abortion services.
Solicitor General Thompson said that the number of abortions being performed in Iowa is declining and Planned Parenthood’s decision to close clinics was not related to the 72-hour waiting period that is the subject of the court challenge because the provision has not taken effect.
It is expected that Farell’s decision will be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court for resolution.
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