Iowa district court blocks 24-hour wait period, additional appointment for abortions

By: - June 22, 2021 3:19 pm

A Johnson County district judge has found unconstitutional a state law enacted in 2020 that requires a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a second clinic appointment for women seeking abortions.

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of ACLU of Iowa, said Tuesday she was immensely relieved by the decision.

“The Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that the right to a safe and legal abortion is a fundamental right protected by our constitution,” she said during a Zoom press conference. “And today’s decision by the district court protects that right.”

She said the amendment added complications that could delay a woman’s ability to get an abortion for weeks.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement Tuesday she expects to appeal the decision: “In a court ruling issued yesterday, an Iowa District Court wrongly struck down our efforts to protect all innocent human life. I will be working with our legal counsel to appeal this recent decision, and I believe we can win.”

The Republican majority in the Iowa Legislature approved an amendment to House File 594 in the early morning hours of June 14, 2020. Before the law could take effect, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa sued Reynolds and the state over the legislation. The lawsuit temporarily blocked the waiting period and additional appointments. 

On Monday, the District Judge Mitchell Turner ruled the amendment was unconstitutional. He cited the precedent of a 2017 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that found a similar bill, which required a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion, unconstitutional.

The court also found the amendment “violates the single-subject requirement of the Iowa Constitution.” The constitution forbids a practice known as “logrolling,” or attaching unrelated legislation to separate bills during floor debate.

The state argued this case was not extreme and the legislation is not clearly, plainly, and palpably unconstitutional. The court disagreed. 

In the ruling, the court said it found the amendment not germane to the bill it was attached to, which was entitled “An Act relating to limitations regarding the withdrawal of a life-sustaining procedure from a minor child.”

During floor debate, the House speaker declared the abortion amendment out of order because it was not germane to the bill. However, the House decided by a majority vote to suspend the rules and consider the provision anyway.

Judge Turner cited the late-night consideration of the abortion proposal and the lack of advance warning for lawmakers and the public as the sort of “tricks in legislation” and “mischief” that the constitutional requirement for single-subject legislation was designed to prevent.

“Abortion is, under any analysis, a polarizing and highly controversial topic. … Yet, the Amendment was passed with limited to no debate, and without Iowans being given a chance to respond to the Amendment,” Turner wrote.

Jamie Burch Elliott, the director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood North Central States, said the waiting period could push women past the 20-week abortion limit in Iowa. 

“In practice, this law effectively puts abortion out of reach for many Iowans,” she said. “Once again, the court righted a legislative overreach according to abortion care, and the court’s decision means access to safe and legal abortion in Iowa remains unchanged.” 

When asked what would happen if the case were appealed, Bettis Austen said she expects the Iowa Supreme Court would retain the case due to its importance to Iowans. The court could also send the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals. 

Burch Elliott said this injunction maintains abortion as safe and legal procedures, without changing access for Iowa women. However, this is not the end, she said, because of other legislation aimed at restricting abortion. 

“This serves as a reminder of why the protections of the state constitution for abortion are so important and why Iowans have to double down in the fight against the anti-abortion constitutional amendment that lawmakers passed in this legislative session,” she said. 

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Eleanor Hildebrandt
Eleanor Hildebrandt

Eleanor Hildebrandt is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication and global health studies, with a minor in German. She is a managing editor at the university newspaper, the Daily Iowan, and has served as an reporter intern at Iowa Capital Dispatch.