Planned Parenthood, ACLU drop 24-hour abortion waiting period case

By: - August 5, 2022 4:57 pm

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU announced they are dropping their lawsuit challenging Iowa's 24-hour waiting period for abortions. (Photo by ericsphotography/Getty Images)

Planned Parenthood and ACLU of Iowa have decided to drop the lawsuit on Iowa’s 24-hour waiting period law for abortions to focus on fighting more stringent abortion restrictions.

When Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed the litigation, lawyers argued the law violated a 2019 Iowa Supreme Court ruling which established a state constitutional right to an abortion. But the state Supreme Court reversed that precedent in June when ruling on the waiting period.

The case was sent back down to the district court for consideration with regard to the decision, although Gov. Kim Reynolds did ask the Supreme Court to hear the case again. The Iowa Supreme Court denied her request.

Many abortion clinics in Iowa have already implemented the law, which requires patients seeking an abortion to wait a day before getting the procedure.

On Friday, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed to voluntarily dismiss the case. Group officials said they dropped the lawsuit so they could devote their energy to other abortion challenges.

“Let me be clear – the motion filed today does not mean we are giving up in our fight to keep abortion safe and legal in Iowa – quite the opposite,” Planned Parenthood North Central States Iowa Public Affairs Director Mazie Stilwell said in a statement. “We are instead intentionally shifting our time and resources away from this case to other looming battles, including the constitutional amendment stripping Iowans of their right to abortion and the governor’s announced attempt to revive a six-week ban.”

Reynolds announced in June that she planned to ask that the courts lift an injunction on the fetal heartbeat law.

The 2018 law would require doctors to check for signs of a fetal heartbeat, typically detected at six weeks of pregnancy, when a woman seeks an abortion. If a fetal heartbeat is detected, the doctor would not be able to perform the procedure, with some exceptions including when the mother’s life is at risk.

The law was blocked from enactment in 2019 by a Planned Parenthood and ACLU suit. But that decision could change if the courts decide to rehear the case following the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

While justices established that abortion was not a right under the Iowa state constitution, they did not state what legal standards abortion restriction laws should be judged by. Future litigation on abortion restrictions in Iowa will establish those new standards.

Iowa voters may soon have a chance to weigh in on abortion constitutionality as well. The state Legislature took the first step last year toward approving an amendment stating that Iowa’s constitution does not secure a right to an abortion.

Lawmakers must approve the amendment again in 2023 or 2024, with no changes to phrasing. If passed, Iowans would vote in the next general election on whether to adopt the amendment.

Neither of the fetal heartbeat law nor the state constitutional amendment would make abortion illegal in Iowa. But states now have the power to fully ban the procedure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said it was an “extremely difficult decision” to dismiss the waiting period case, but that there were more pressing issues following the state and federal Supreme Courts’ decisions on abortion.

“We have decided this step is necessary to focus our resources on fighting the governor’s efforts to reimpose an extreme, dangerous six-week ban and on making sure that abortion in Iowa remains legal,” Austen said in a news release.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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