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Judge blocks Iowa’s new 24-hour abortion waiting period from going into effect

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Demonstrators gather on the University of Iowa Pentacrest for a pro-choice rally on Friday, May 17, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

A Johnson County District Court judge issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday blocking enforcement of the new 24-hour waiting period for abortions passed by the Iowa legislature last month. The waiting period was scheduled to take effect on July 1.

“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 in a written statement. “I want to be sure all Iowans know their access to safe, legal abortion remains the same. Many of our patients drive hours to their appointments, and to require a second, medically unnecessary visit creates serious obstacles. Many must take off time from work, arrange and pay for child care, and find transportation and this law would add more barriers to necessary health care in the middle of a pandemic.”

The new restriction on abortion was fast-tracked by Republican leaders in the legislature and was passed only hours after it was introduced at the end of this year’s legislative session. It would create a mandatory waiting period by requiring a doctor to get written certification from a woman that she is eligible to obtain an abortion, at least 24 hours before the procedure is performed.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit on June 23, asking the court to strike down the new restriction as unconstitutional, and to stop the law from coming into effect while their legal challenge is underway.

Judge Mitchell Turner said during a hearing on Monday that the state’s lower courts are bound by a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortions signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad as a violation of Iowa Constitution. The court found the state’s constitution provides a stronger guarantee of a woman’s right to make her own decision regarding abortion than the U.S. Constitution does. The judge could not issue a injunction on Monday, because Gov. Kim Reynolds had not yet signed the bill containing the 24-hour waiting period.

The new restriction had been added as an amendment to a bill dealing with the withdrawal of medical intervention needed to sustain the life of a critically ill child. Reynolds signed the bill into law on Monday, and issued a written statement about it, something she has rarely done this year.

“I am proud to stand up for the sanctity of every human life,” the governor said in her statement. “Life is precious, life is sacred, and we can never stop fighting for it. I applaud the Iowa lawmakers who had the courage to stand strong and take action to protect the unborn child.”

In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Turner said he was issuing the injunction because Planned Parenthood of the Heartland had “established a likelihood of success” in its legal challenge. Turner also took issue with the way the restriction was passed. It was added to the bill after 10 p.m., and it received final approval — with all the legislature’s Republicans and one House Democrat voting in favor — in the early hours of Sunday morning. There was no attempt to hold a public hearing on the restriction, or even give the public advance notice.

Republicans in the legislature not only anticipated a legal challenge to the 24-hour waiting period, but welcomed it.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said during the debate on the bill that the waiting period was meant to challenge the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 decision.

“The very notion that somehow there’s a fundamental right in Iowa’s constitution is one of the most gross misuses of the power of the gavel,” according to Chapman.

Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, had already made a similar point in the House: “Maybe this will provide an opportunity for the courts to rectify the terrible situation that they’ve created here in our state.”

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Abortion opponents hope that changes in the make-up of the Iowa Supreme Court mean the justices are open to overturning the court’s decision.

Three of the court’s seven members who participated in the 2018 decision have retired, and Chief Justice Mark Cady died unexpectedly in November 2019. All four have been replaced by justices appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

During an appearance before a conservative Christian gathering last year, Reynolds boasted that “the tide is turning in Iowa’s Supreme Court.” She added, “In just two short years, we’ve moved the needle from left to right.”


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