Update: The Reynolds administration backed off its attempt ban all surgical abortions in Iowa under the governor’s emergency ordering prohibiting “nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures that utilize personal protective equipment,” before the starting of a Wednesday afternoon hearing on the Planned Parenthood of Heartland’s request for an emergency injunction.
“Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, told Judge Andrew Chappell that attorneys for the plaintiff and the state had agreed to compromise language ‘Less than one minute before the beginning of this hearing,’” Laura Belin reported at Bleeding Heartland.
Doctors will now be allowed to make case-by-case decisions for their patients.
The Iowa Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists sent Gov. Kim Reynolds a letter on Sunday, asking the governor to change her stance on banning surgical abortions until April 16.
“Delaying abortion care poses an undue risk to a patient’s current and future health,” Dr. Shannon Leveridge, legislative chair of the Iowa Section, wrote on behalf of her colleagues. “Abortion care is time-sensitive, for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks, or potentially make it completely inaccessible.”
The letter is included as an exhibit in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland by the ACLU of Iowa against Reynolds and other state officials. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Johnson County district court, seeks an emergency injunction on enforcement of a prohibition on performing surgical abortions.
On March 26, Gov. Reynolds issued an emergency proclamation that, among other things, banned “nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures that utilize personal protective equipment” until at least April 16.
Abortion is not mentioned in the proclamation and Reynolds said nothing about it in her written statement about the proclamation or during her press conference that day. But the day after Reynolds issued the proclamation, the governor’s spokesperson told the Des Moines Register via email, “Proclamation suspends all nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures until April 16th, that includes surgical abortion procedures.”
As the attorneys point out in their filing, the governor has already extended the length of her earlier emergency proclamations and could do so with this one as well, extending the ban on surgical abortions well beyond April 16.
According to the lawsuit, “As a result of the Governor’s interpretation of the Proclamation, Petitioners have been forced to cancel abortion procedures and turn away patients in need of time-sensitive abortion.”
“We are in a critical moment for our state when we must come together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, not politicize health care services that are constitutionally protected. Iowans are doing all they can to protect their families and communities during this pandemic and Planned Parenthood is focused on providing our patients with crucial services they need,” Iowa Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Erin Davison-Rippey said in a written statement on Monday.
At her Monday press conference, Reynolds insisted that neither politics nor her long-standing opposition to abortion had anything to do with her deciding surgical abortions are nonessential medical procedures.
The proclamation suspends all nonessential and essential [sic] surgery procedures until April 16, and we believe that that does include surgical abortion procedures. The decisions I have made have been made in the vein of really helping us strategically use our PPE stockpile that we have. That has been an issue from the very beginning of this.
I believe that at every press conference I have stated that the two things we really are worried about is [sic] making sure that we have the personal protective equipment to take care of those Iowans who are on the frontline serving Iowans and those in need, as well as our first responders and then just the workforce to make sure that we have our health care providers and our first responders healthy, so they can take care of Iowans.
Asked what she would say to those who believe a surgical abortion should be considered an essential medical procedure, Reynolds replied, “With every one of the directives we’ve made or every one of the orders that we’ve put in place, there are questions.”
“So, I guess if they have questions, the Board of Medicine would be the enforcement or the oversight for this. As people have questions, that’s where they can go and maybe get the answers that they’re looking for.”
Whether surgical abortions are an essential medical procedure isn’t an open question for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Along with six other professional organization of health care providers for women, they issued a statement on March 18 protesting the attempts in some states to ban abortions under the guise of fighting the spread of COVID-19.
“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible,” according to the statement.
The eight groups said stated they “do not support COVID-19 responses that cancel or delay abortion procedures.”
Texas, Alabama and Ohio have also tried to ban abortion as part of emergency orders in their responses to COVID-19. Federal district court judges have issued injunctions stopping those bans from going into effect, finding in each that the bans would cause “irreparable harm” to patients.
But on Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most conservative appeals court in the country, overturned the Texas district court judge’s ruling and allowed the Texas order to go into effect.
The ACLU of Iowa filed its lawsuit in state court, not federal court. That’s because the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the Iowa Constitution provides a stronger guarantee of a woman’s right to choose an abortion than the U.S. Constitution does.
It was a state court judge that struck down the so-called “fetal heartbeat” ban on almost all abortions after six weeks that Reynolds signed into law in 2018. The protection afforded to women by the Iowa Constitution is the reason Reynolds called for the addition of an anti-abortion amendment during her January Condition of the State speech.
The governor hasn’t made a public statement in response to the lawsuit yet, but according to her spokesperson, she “will be working in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office to defend the actions she’s taken.”