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Planned Parenthood and ACLU of Iowa file a lawsuit challenging new abortion restriction passed by Iowa lawmakers

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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

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit seeking to stop a new restriction on abortion passed by the Iowa legislature earlier this month. A bill fast-tracked by Republican leaders in the legislature and passed only hours after it was introduced would mandate a 24-hour 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.

“This legislation is billed as a 24-hour waiting period law, but make no mistake — in many cases, it will delay a person’s ability to get an abortion by weeks,” Erin Davison-Rippey, Iowa Executive Director of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement. “Many of our patients must drive four or more hours one way for abortion services, so this legislation will only create more hurdles to getting care. It’s already hard enough for many Iowans to access abortion services, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. This is clearly a political ploy to create barriers to sexual and reproductive health care in Iowa.”

The lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court seeks a temporary injunction against the bill that is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, if Gov. Reynolds signs it. The governor has not publicly taken a position on the bill, but has signed every abortion restriction the legislature has sent her, and has called for the Iowa Constitution to be amended to add anti-abortion language.

“The Iowa Supreme Court only two years ago ruled that a law precisely like this one violated the fundamental rights of Iowans to seek an abortion,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said. “It recognized in that decision that mandatory delays and additional trips to the clinic don’t change people’s minds — they only serve to try to shame women and put obstacles in their way. That precedent requires that this law be struck down.”

When the bill was under debate in the legislature, supporters expressed the hope that the new law would be used to overrule the precedent set by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018. In that case, the court was ruling on a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion that Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law. In its decision, the court said the Iowa Constitution provided a stronger guarantee of a woman’s right to make her own decision regarding abortion than the U.S. Constitution does.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said during the debate on the bill that the waiting period was meant to challenge that 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.”

Abortion opponents hope that changes in the makeup of the Iowa Supreme Court mean the justices are open to overturning the 2018 decision.

Three of the court’s seven members who participated in the 2018 decision have retied, 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.”

The governor’s office has not yet replied to requests for comments on the bill or the lawsuit.

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