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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Abortion — for now — likely would remain legal in Iowa up to the 20th week of pregnancy, even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion, as Politico reported it is considering.
But the timing of both U.S. and Iowa Supreme Court rulings could complicate matters.
An overturn of Roe v. Wade would return the authority over abortion regulations to the states, and the Iowa Supreme Court has issued multiple recent rulings striking down proposed abortion restrictions including a three-day waiting period and a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
The latter ruling stated that a woman’s right to an abortion is a protected, fundamental right in Iowa. Which means the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, on its own, would not change Iowa’s state abortion regulations.
However, the Iowa Supreme Court is currently considering another recently passed abortion restriction, requiring a one-day waiting period. And Iowa Republicans earlier this year filed legal briefs asking the court to overturn its 2019 order striking down the ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
If the Iowa Supreme Court overturns its previous ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, then Iowa Republicans would be legally clear to pass abortion restrictions.
“(The U.S. Supreme Court ruling) would not have a direct impact on Iowa unless the Iowa Supreme Court overturns (its 2019 ruling),” said Drake University law professor Sally Frank said Tuesday.
Both rulings could come this summer.
If the Iowa Supreme Court does not overturn its previous ruling, nothing would change in Iowa, even if Roe v. Wade is rejected.
“In Iowa, there is a constitutional right to abortion, for now, on the books,” Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said Tuesday during a press call.
If the Iowa Supreme Court does not budge, Iowa Republicans are working to change that by proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, which would nullify those recent abortion rulings.
The proposed amendment, which could be put to Iowa voters in 2024, would state that the Iowa Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion. That would clear the way for lawmakers to pass abortion restrictions.
Stoesz said Planned Parenthood will be active if the proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution is put to Iowa voters.
“We know that politics are very volatile, and we know that elections matter,” Stoesz said. “We intend to fight that (proposed constitutional amendment) very hard at the ballot.”
Another avenue Iowa Republicans could take would be to pass legislation that would create a ban or severe restriction on abortions, and state that the law would only go into effect if and when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
In fact, exactly that type of legislation already was introduced this session. House File 2289 did not receive any legislative attention earlier this session, but it is precisely the kind of vehicle that statehouse Republicans could use to get a tentative law on the books before this year’s session ends.
When asked Tuesday whether they intend to pass abortion legislation before this year’s session ends, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Republican House Speaker Pat Grassley did not respond. Reynolds and Whitver issued statements about abortions, but they did not address potential legislative action.
Rep. Skyler Wheeler, a Republican from Orange City who introduced the bill, did not respond when asked whether he planned to push for its passage.
Any new law would still have to pass muster with the state Supreme Court.
The Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a Republican-written three-day waiting period before a woman could have an abortion, and in 2019 struck down a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is prepared to introduce federal legislation that would ban abortions after roughly six weeks, according to reporting from the Washington Post that cited an anti-abortion advocate source. Ernst issued a statement Tuesday about the report that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, but did not respond to whether she plans to introduce abortion-restricting legislation.
A majority of Iowans — 57 percent — believe abortion should be legal, according to the most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll to ask the question, this past September. That was an increase of 8 percentage points from the previous year.
Just 38 percent of Iowans said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, according to the September poll results.
There were 4,058 abortions performed in Iowa in 2020, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, according to the most recent data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Iowa had seen a steady decline in the number of medically and surgically induced abortions over the course of several years, but that trend began reversing in 2019.
In 2017, statehouse Republicans ended federal funding to a state family planning program, and created a new one that does not include offering abortion services.
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