Texas Ruling Puts Iowa, US Abortion Rights in Uncertain Territory

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

By Nikoel Hytrek
September 2, 2021

Abortion rights are back to being uncertain in America and in Iowa.

A majority in the US Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to stop the implementation of a Texas law, known as SB 8, that severely shortens the window during which women can seek abortions and includes broad citizen-enforcement elements that several justices speculated were unconstitutional.

The decision came down 5-4 in favor of allowing the Texas law to go into effect.

For years, Republicans have been chipping away at Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that found women have a fundamental, Constitutional right to abortion until a fetus is able to survive outside the uterus, which is generally considered after 24 weeks.

Laws requiring waiting periods, putting limits on where abortions can be performed, requiring permission from parents or partners, and banning the procedure after a certain point in the pregnancy have all tested the limits of Roe.

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In Iowa, Republicans have tried to enact several laws limiting Iowans’ abilities to access abortion.

That includes cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood locations, which forced many closures, trying to implement a 72-hour waiting period, trying to implement a 24-hour waiting period, and trying to cut off abortion access at six weeks, the so-called “heartbeat” bill, though fetuses don’t develop hearts until later into pregnancy.

The Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 ruled 5-2 that Iowans have the right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution and struck down the 72-hour waiting period. That finding was used to strike down the 24-hour waiting period and the “heartbeat” bill.

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Monday, a lawyer for 60 Iowa legislators filed a brief asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn the 2018 ruling. It’s connected to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appeal of the 24-hour waiting period’s failure.

That 2018 decision was written by then-Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died in 2019 and was replaced by Chief Justice Susan Christensen. It’s based on the idea that restrictions violate women’s rights to due process and equal protection.

“Without the opportunity to control their reproductive lives, women may need to place their educations on hold, pause or abandon their careers, and never fully assume a position in society equal to men, who face no such similar constraints for comparable sexual activity,” Cady wrote.

The finding also prompted a push to amend Iowa’s constitution to explicitly state it does not support the right to abortion. That amendment has made it through its first round of the adoption process and could be in front of voters as early as 2024.

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Activists have long warned about the threat Republicans pose to women’s bodily autonomy, and about their efforts to overturn Roe in the Supreme Court.

With a 6-3 conservative majority, attained by three appointees of former President Donald Trump, many worry that time has come.

In the next term, which begins in October, the Supreme Court will hear a case about a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. If they find that it doesn’t violate the Constitution, the floodgates will be open for other states to impose similar restrictions.

And Iowa Republicans will finally have another path to limit abortion.


by Nikoel Hytrek


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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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