Iowa Supreme Court Declines to Reinstate Strict Abortion Limits, Opening Possibility of New Legislation

by Sophia Chen
abortion limits

In a recent decision, the Iowa Supreme Court has chosen not to reinstate a law that would have significantly limited access to abortion, thereby rejecting the efforts of Republican Governor Kim Reynolds. This decision maintains the status quo and prevents Iowa, a conservative state, from joining others with stringent abortion restrictions.

The Iowa Supreme Court, in a rare 3-3 ruling, upheld the 2019 district court’s decision that blocked the law. Notably, this ruling comes approximately one year after both the Iowa Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that women do not possess a fundamental constitutional right to abortion.

The blocked law prohibited abortions once cardiac activity could be detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy, often before many women are aware of their pregnancy. However, the law did include exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities.

Justice Thomas Waterman, speaking on behalf of the three justices who rejected the reinstatement of the law, stated that granting the request would necessitate bypassing the legislature, altering the court’s standard for reviewing laws, and invalidating the injunction imposed by a lower court that halted the law’s enforcement.

Although the court comprises seven members, one justice chose not to participate due to her former law firm’s representation of an abortion provider. All the justices were appointed by Republican governors, with five of them appointed by Governor Reynolds.

Governor Reynolds expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling, stating that it disregards the Iowa voters who elected representatives committed to protecting the rights of unborn children. She argued that the court had sided with a single judge in a single county, who struck down Iowa’s legislation based on principles that have since been unequivocally rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reynolds emphasized that the fight was not over and her administration was considering various options, including the possibility of calling a special legislative session to enact stricter abortion laws.

With Republicans holding substantial majorities in the state House and Senate, leaders from both chambers criticized the court’s ruling and indicated their intention to pursue new legislation.

Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, hailed the decision as a significant victory, asserting that every individual deserves control over their body and that Iowans have that right according to the court’s ruling. Richardson argued that abortion bans increase the danger associated with pregnancy, and people’s access to reproductive healthcare should not depend on their state of residence.

It is important to note that while the Iowa Supreme Court upholds the block on the law, Governor Reynolds and lawmakers are not precluded from enacting a new law with similar provisions. The court’s decision on Friday was primarily procedural, as the appeal to the 2019 ruling came too late in 2022.

Currently, abortions remain legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and delegated authority over abortion to states, most Republican-led states have significantly restricted access to abortion. However, courts have temporarily suspended the enforcement of several abortion bans and restrictions as they evaluate their compliance with state constitutions, including six bans currently on hold. Thus far, there is no clear trend in final rulings following the Dobbs decision.

While certain states have had bans declared unconstitutional in limited ways, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently invalidated two state laws banning abortion, yet the practice remains illegal at all stages of pregnancy in the state, with a few exceptions, due to another active ban.

In Idaho, a federal judge prohibited the enforcement of an abortion ban in medical emergencies, while another federal judge made an opposing decision regarding a Texas state law.

Governor Reynolds signed Iowa’s 2018 law despite state and federal court decisions, including Roe, that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. However, a state judge blocked the law the following year, and Reynolds did not appeal the decision at that time.

In a separate case, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its opinion last year, which stated that the state’s constitution confirms a fundamental right to abortion. Shortly after, Roe was overturned, and Governor Reynolds sought to dissolve the 2019 ruling. However, a state judge ruled that she lacked the authority to do so, prompting Reynolds to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, which now has a more conservative composition than when the law was originally passed. Reynolds appointed five of the court’s seven members.

Given the tied decision on Friday, the court affirms the lower court’s decision, but the high court’s opinions hold no additional authority. As a result, earlier rulings that employed the “undue burden test” for evaluating abortion laws remain in effect.

The “undue burden” test requires that laws do not create significant obstacles to obtaining an abortion and applies an intermediate level of scrutiny. The state’s attorneys argued that the law should be analyzed using rational basis review, which represents the lowest level of scrutiny for assessing legal challenges.

Justice Christopher McDonald, in his opinion supporting the reversal of the law, contended that rejecting the appeal and denying the law’s reinstatement would diminish the power of the legislative branch. He further argued that significant changes in the law warranted the dissolution of the 2019 ruling.

Geoff Mulvihill, a writer from Big Big News in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about abortion limits

Q: Did the Iowa Supreme Court reinstate the strict abortion limits?

A: No, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to reinstate the strict abortion limits. They upheld a 2019 district court ruling that blocked the law, thereby maintaining the legality of abortion in Iowa for now.

Q: What does the blocked law in Iowa entail?

A: The blocked law in Iowa would have banned abortions once cardiac activity could be detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. However, it included exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities.

Q: Who challenged the blocked law in Iowa?

A: Planned Parenthood challenged the law, leading to a state judge blocking its enforcement in 2019. Governor Kim Reynolds did not appeal the decision at that time.

Q: Are there possibilities for new legislation in Iowa?

A: Yes, despite the court’s decision, Governor Reynolds and lawmakers in Iowa can still pursue new legislation that could potentially introduce similar provisions regarding abortion restrictions.

Q: How does this decision align with the U.S. Supreme Court’s stance on abortion rights?

A: The decision by the Iowa Supreme Court comes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and delegated authority over abortion to states. The court ruling in Iowa does not alter the broader legal landscape regarding abortion rights in the United States.

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FreedomFighter June 17, 2023 - 1:47 am

Finally! a win fr reproductive rights! Planned Parenthood ftw! we need to protect a womens right to choose. no one should control our bodies!

AbbyGurl23 June 17, 2023 - 3:02 am

huh, so dey blocked de law cuz it infringes on womens rights? i guess dat makes sense but i stil think dere should b some limits on abortion. its a complicated issue tbh.

JohnDoe567 June 17, 2023 - 3:03 am

dis decision is a slap in de face of de pro-life movement. iowa supreme crt is going against de will of de people who elected reps to protect unborn children. smh!

Jenny87 June 17, 2023 - 4:14 am

omg i cnt belive de Iowa supreme crt declined de strict abortion limits!! thts gr8 news fr womens rights! hope dis means other states follow suit!

LuvMyKids June 17, 2023 - 8:05 am

i dont get y its such a big deal. cant we just find a compromise? abortions r a sensitive issue, but i think we need to find a middle ground dat respects both sides.


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