DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday overruled a 2018 decision that protected abortion under the state constitution.
In a fractured decision that reverses a lower court’s decision to block a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, the court said the previous ruling that established a constitutional right to an abortion “insufficiently recognizes that future human lives are at stake.”
The ruling sends a case challenging a 2020 law that put in place a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion back to a lower court to reevaluate.
It also suggested that a decision from the US Supreme Court, which is expected soon, would further decide the landscape of abortion in Iowa and across the US
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland challenged the 2020 lawarguing that its passage had violated procedural rules and that the waiting period was unconstitutional.
The composition of the court has shifted since then. Iowa’s Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has appointed four of the seven justices.
While rejecting a constitutional guarantee of the right to abortion, Friday’s decision did not say what the new standard should be.
“Although we overrule (the 2018 decision), and thus reject the proposition that there is a fundamental right to an abortion in Iowa’s Constitution subjecting abortion regulation to strict scrutiny, we do not at this time decide what constitutional standard should replace it,” wrote Justice Edward Mansfield, who held the majority opinion.
How will the decision impact Iowa abortion laws?
State and federal court decisions have limited the scope of laws restricting abortion. Republican leaders in Iowa have passed laws to impose waiting periods or forbid abortion much earlier in pregnancyonly to see those laws blocked by the courts.
Friday’s decision found that the Iowa state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion. That means anti-abortion lawmakers in Iowa will no longer need to contend with state-level constitutional protections if they pass laws to limit access to the procedure.
Gov. Kim Reynolds celebrated the Iowa Supreme Court decision in a Friday morning statement.
“Today’s ruling is a significant victory in our fight to protect the unborn. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed its earlier 2018 decision, which made Iowa the most abortion-friendly state in the country,” Reynolds said. “Every life is sacred and should be protected, and as long as I’m governor that is exactly what I will do.”
Iowa lawmakers must still contend with federal protections, however. Roe v. Wade, a 1973 US Supreme Court case, protects the right to an abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb.
The federal precedent set by Roe is poised to fall, according to a leaked opinion of an upcoming decision. If the US Supreme Court overturns the decision, states will have more leeway to pass and enforce laws that limit abortions even in the earliest weeks of pregnancy.
With the Iowa constitutional right removed, and if the Roe precedent is overturned, Iowa lawmakers would have significantly more freedom to pass and enforce restrictive abortion laws.
Iowa’s Republican leaders have been reluctant to share specific plans about what laws they hope to pass after the US Supreme Court decision. Reynolds has declined to speculate about whether she would call lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special session on abortion.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said the decision “is a positive step in our fight to protect the unborn.” He did not offer specific legislative plans, but reaffirmed his caucus’s commitment against abortion.
Democrats decried the ruling Friday morning. House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said it was a “step backwards for Iowa families.”
“Iowans should always have the final say in making their own healthcare decisions, including abortion, without interference from politicians,” Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said in a statement.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism