Government

Iowa judge temporarily blocks 24-hour wait for women seeking abortions

IOWA CITY — A day before a 24-hour waiting period for any Iowa woman seeking an abortion was to take effect, a judge Tuesday temporarily blocked it as abortion rights advocates asked.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland had the appropriate “third-party standing” — legal rights — to pursue the claim on behalf of its patients.

Planned Parenthood also established in its legal arguments a “likelihood of success” of its assertion that the abortion amendment to another bill in the Iowa Legislature was passed in violation of the single subject rule — meaning it wasn’t relevant to the rest of House File 594.

The underlying bill regarded “withdrawal of a life-sustaining procedure from a minor child.”

“We’re glad that patients can seek abortion care without the burden of a state-mandated delay and extra appointment,” Erin Davison-Rippey, Iowa executive director of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said after the ruling. “I want to be sure all Iowans know their access to safe, legal abortion remains the same.”

Rita Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa director, said this order was “vital” to protecting abortion access in Iowa while the case is litigated.

“We are grateful to the district court for its attention to this important and time-sensitive case,” Austen said. “The Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that the right to a safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right protected by our constitution, and today’s decision protects that right.”

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Gov. Kim Reynolds’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. She had signed the bill into law Monday.

Turner wrote that the measure was passed under “highly unusual circumstances, including the speed at which the amendment passed.”

“Abortion is, under any analysis, a polarizing and highly controversial topic, yet the amendment was passed with limited to no debate, and without Iowans being given a chance to respond to the amendment,” he said.

The state acknowledged during a phone conference hearing Monday in Johnson County District Court that most people would have been asleep by the time of its passage, Turner pointed out. The title of the bill at 8:17 p.m. June 13 didn’t include the word “abortion.” The title of bill later changed but there was some evidence in the “limited record” that ultimately may support a “finding of logrolling” because the amendment was attached to a “non-controversial” bill.

Turner said the state argued that the court shouldn’t rely on the single subject rule to “embarrass legislation or hamper the Iowa Legislature.” But according to affidavits in the case, a state representative and Speaker of the House Pat Grassley both had admitted the amendment wasn’t germane to the underlying bill.

Even if Planned Parenthood isn’t ultimately successful in the single subject rule argument, it has established an “invasion or threatened invasion of a right” on which it could succeed at trial, Turner said.

The court is bound by Iowa precedent decided in 2018 when the Iowa Supreme Court said a 72-hour waiting period was unconstitutional, he noted. Many of the same issues were raised and litigated at the time.

The Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 specifically recognized abortion as a fundamental right, and applied the high standard of “strict scrutiny” to the review of the act at issue, Turner said.

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Planned Parenthood likely will be able to show substantially the same burden of harm to patients subject to a 24-hour waiting period as it did with the 72-hour waiting period, Turner ruled. This could be particularly true now in light of the COVID-19 health crisis, considering the now-blocked law’s requirement for making multiple trips to an abortion provider.

The court also concluded that the time sensitive nature of abortion procedures supports that patients could face substantial injury if a temporary injunctive relief wasn’t granted. In cases where a patient is at or near 22 weeks of pregnancy, she could be deprived of her “fundamental right” to an abortion, the judge said.

Planned Parenthood also offered evidence of psychological and physical harm that could if a is deprived of the right, including that an abortion may become less safe because of the progression of the pregnancy; that a woman could face increased travel distances, costs and stress; and that a “vulnerable” population may suffer, Turner stated.

The final factor necessary for the court to grant the injunction was that the petitioners had to show they had no other adequate legal remedy.

While the law is under litigation, the state is temporarily prohibited from enforcing the 24-hour waiting period.

Turner also ordered a $500 bond to cover costs, including attorney fees, as requested by the state.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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