Legislature pushes through abortion waiting period in overnight debate

Iowa Capitol Dome
The dome of the Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Working through the night, the Iowa House and Senate approved a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, voting during what could prove to be the final hours of the 2020 legislative session.

The legislation, in the form of an amendment tacked on to House File 594, a bill dealing with the withdrawal of lifesaving medical support for children, passed the Iowa House late Saturday. The Senate, which worked all night, gave the bill its approval just before 5:30 a.m. Sunday.

The bill, which now goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her approval, requires a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion except in the case of a medical emergency. It does not make an exception for rape or incest.

Republican supporters of the bill said they were attempting to roll back a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that struck down a 72-hour waiting period for abortion.

“Our Supreme Court created a constitutional right for abortion here in our state,” Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peota, said. “This extreme action by our courts creates a law that deeply affects the lives of Iowans and removes their voice from the discussion. We look forward to the day where Iowans can have a seat at the table. And maybe this will provide an opportunity for the courts to rectify the terrible situation that they’ve created here in our state.”

Since the 2018 court ruling, the Legislature has changed the judicial nominating process. Reynolds, a Republican, has appointed four Supreme Court justices to date, including two this year.

Democrats protested not only the substance of the bill but its middle-of-the-night debate, which took place with little warning or opportunity for public input.

“Pregnancy is complicated and every woman’s experience is unique,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said. “It’s appalling to see my GOP colleagues exploit this moment of national pandemic to advance an ideological agenda that is out of touch with Iowans.”

Republicans had worked all session to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to declare there was no right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. Reynolds has spoken in favor of that proposal. The effort fell short in the House and was a clear roadblock toward an agreement with Senate Republicans to shut down the session.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the waiting period is consistent with laws requiring a pause for reflection before other major life decisions.

“Iowa has a three-day wait for marriage, a 72-hour waiting period after birth for adoption, a 90-day waiting period for divorce,” Schultz said, according to Radio Iowa. “All of these waiting periods are to ensure Iowans who are making life-long decisions have time to reflect.”

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, said many of the barriers to abortion cited in the lawsuit over a 72-hour waiting period also exist with a 24-hour wait. She said those include arranging transportation, child care and potentially an overnight stay in a distant city so that a woman can attend two doctor’s appointments instead of one.

“I’m sure it’s clear that I’m angry,” Matson said, D-Ankeny, said.  “I’m angry about the substance of this amendment, I’m angry about the intent behind it, and I’m angry that we’re even having this debate tonight.”

Erin Davison-Rippey, Iowa executive director for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement: “We at Planned Parenthood see firsthand the burden on our patients when politicians create arbitrary barriers to safe, legal abortion, like this new waiting period. This law is really about shaming Iowans and making it harder to access abortion.”

Kathie Obradovich
Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.