In an important win for Iowa women, the Iowa Supreme Court has struck down a law that would have required Iowa women seeking an abortion to make a second, medically unnecessary clinic visit and then to wait at least 72 hours more hours after that visit to actually receive services. 

The additional hurdles and delays would have imposed a significant challenge for women, many of whom are low-income and/or face challenges in finding and paying for transportation, have difficulty in arranging for child care, who must take time off work or school, who have experienced sexual violence, or who face violence from an abuser. For some, the law would have kept them from being able to access abortion services at all.

“This is a tremendous victory,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director. “This is the most important constitutional rights case in Iowa since Varnum. It recognizes that women have equal footing to men under our laws. It holds that women have a fundamental right to a safe and legal abortion which cannot be legislated away. The court based its decision on its recognition that women’s equality and freedom is intrinsically tied to her ability to make her own decisions about her body and whether to become a parent. This is a very important, happy day for freedom and equality of women in Iowa.

It's important to note that because this decision is rooted in the Iowa Constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court is the final word on the matter. The decision is not subject to appeal to the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The win marks the end of a long legal fight for Iowa women. In May 2017, Iowa passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, which was scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2017. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU immediately filed a lawsuit seeking to block two parts of the law that would 1) require women to make a second, medically unnecessary clinic appointment and 2) then wait at least 72 hours after that appointment to finally receive abortion services.

On October 2017, the Polk County District Court declined to block the law. So Planned Parenthood and ACLU then immediately filed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, which granted a temporary injunction until the Court could make a decision in the case.

The new law would have added not just days but probably weeks to the time women could receive abortion services before Iowa’s 20-week abortion limit. That’s because of scheduling challenges in women’s lives and with medical services.

The new law also would have created significant burdens and obstacles for women trying to access abortion services. Many already must drive long distances and take time off work and find child care to get medical care. Requiring women to make an extra, medically unnecessary trip to their provider and to wait before having an abortion would be especially devastating to women who already face significant barriers to care, including low-income and rural women, as well as women at risk for domestic violence and women experiencing pregnancy-related complications.

The Court wrote powerfully that a woman’s equality and freedom is intrinsically tied to her ability to make her own decisions about her body and whether to become a parent. It also recognized that enacting the law would have severely curtailed many women’s ability to get abortions and in many case, prevented them from being able to get them at all.

The Court wrote: “Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty.”

It also recognized that “Abortion regulations impact different women in many different ways. Womanhood is not a monolith. There are few hurdles that are of level height for women of different races, classes, and abilities. There are few impositions that cannot be solved by wealth. Women of means are surely better positioned to weather the consequences of waiting-period requirements. Yet, it is axiomatic that a right that is only accessible to the wealthy or privileged is no right at all. Accordingly, on our review of the Act, we will measure its constitutionality by “its impact on those whose conduct it affects.” 

Further, the Court understood that “Whether a woman is personally prepared and capable of assuming life-altering obligations and expectations is a decision about which the government has scarce insight.”

The full Iowa Supreme Court opinion can be found here.