What happens in Iowa if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

Iowa Republicans celebrated a document suggesting the Supreme Court could overturn the landmark abortion ruling

By: - May 3, 2022 4:11 pm

A leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion draft confirms the court's intention to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as a leaked document suggests it might, abortion access will not immediately change in Iowa.

Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court decision, determined that people have the right to access an abortion without burdensome government restrictions. Politico released a draft of a Supreme Court decision to strike down the precedent, which Justice Samuel Alito called “egregiously wrong from the start.”

The drafted opinion is not the court’s final decision, which is expected later this year. If a majority of justices rule as they did in the draft, abortion laws will be left to state governments to decide. Many Republican-led states have already passed restrictive “trigger laws” that are ready to take effect as soon as Roe drops.

But the process in Iowa is more complicated due to state-level legal precedent. Republican leaders will need to address the state’s constitutional protections before they can successfully restrict abortions in Iowa.

What happens if Roe is overturned?

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the state constitution protects the right to an abortion – a precedent that will remain in place, regardless of the Roe v. Wade outcome.

“It will have no effect in Iowa,” Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said. “There’s nothing on the books in Iowa that would cause our health centers to shut down, should Roe be overturned.”

Under current law, Iowa prohibits abortions after about 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But that doesn’t mean change isn’t on the horizon for Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court is expected to consider a legal challenge to a 2020 law requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. That decision may overturn the 2018 ruling and determine that Iowa’s constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.

Republican lawmakers are also working to amend the constitution, making it explicit that the state does not recognize the right to terminate a pregnancy. A proposed constitutional amendment would say that Iowa “does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.” That amendment needs to pass through the next General Assembly before Iowans may vote on it in an election.

According to 2021 Des Moines Register/Mediacom polling, 58% of Iowans said they would oppose amending the Iowa Constitution to explicitly remove the right to an abortion.

Read more: If Roe is overturned, what happens next for Iowa abortion laws?

Will Iowa Republicans take action on abortion this session?

Before this week, legislative leaders have said they await the U.S. and Iowa Supreme Court decisions before taking further steps on abortion in Iowa. Following the leaked document, Republicans in both the Iowa House and Senate emphasized that the decision was not yet finalized.

In a statement Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said there was still “uncertainty” about the court’s final decision.

“Uncertainty remains about the final decision regarding abortion by both the US Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court,” Whitver said. “Despite the questions surrounding those decisions, Iowans can be certain Senate Republicans have, and will continue to lead on life.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley took a similar stance on Twitter.

Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a short statement Tuesday reaffirming her pro-life stance. 

“As we await the Supreme Court’s final ruling, our mission remains as clear as it has ever been,” she said. “We are fighting to defend the most important freedom there is: the right to life.”

There have been few bills on abortion at the Capitol this year, as the constitutional amendment passed through the General Assembly in 2021. The Senate passed a bill last month to fund nonprofit groups that promote alternatives to abortion. The House has not passed the bill yet.

Lawmakers are still in session as Republican leadership seeks an agreement on private school scholarships and other key legislative priorities,

What do other Iowa leaders think of the pending decision?

Republicans in Iowa’s D.C. delegation applauded the Supreme Court for considering the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

“For nearly half a century, the Roe v. Wade decision has allowed for the destruction of innocent life in America,” Rep. Randy Feenstra said in a statement. “I am incredibly encouraged that the Supreme Court appears to finally recognize the injustice this misguided decision has caused and I remain committed to protecting all life.

Rep. Ashley Hinson said she would “continue to champion pro-life policies and support expecting mothers.”

“If it is true that Roe v. Wade’s days are numbered, countless lives will be saved, but our fight to protect innocent life isn’t over,” Hinson tweeted Tuesday morning.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Sen. Joni Ernst may lead legislation to ban abortion at six weeks, if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Ernst did not immediately issue a statement on the leaked Supreme Court document.

Republicans also criticized the leak of the document.

“The leak of a pending United States Supreme Court decision is a betrayal of our democratic institutions and an attempt to undermine our Federal Judiciary System that must be investigated immediately,” Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said in a statement.

Rep. Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s D.C. delegation, criticized the drafted decision. She urged the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would essentially codify the Roe v. Wade precedent into law.

“Women have been empowered to make their own decisions about their bodies and reproductive rights for nearly half a century, and I will not stand idly by and let decades of progress slip away,” Axne said. 

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn also called for Roe v. Wade to be enshrined in law. 

“I know that many of us feel afraid right now, but we have the power to elect champions for reproductive freedoms this fall who will write the protections of Roe into law at both the federal and state level,” Wilburn said. “This fight is not over – and I’m proud to stand alongside the Iowans organizing for a future where our personal freedoms are protected.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.