Since the overturning of Roe v Wade, demand for abortions hasn’t decreased in Iowa and providers have seen more people from out-of-state travel here for abortion care, according to Planned Parenthood.
“We know that our staff and our providers keep working hard every single day to make sure that they can serve as many people as possible,” said Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood North Central States, at a press conference last week.
“But with that increased demand and the unnecessary additional appointments, that certainly places a significant burden and limits their ability to provide as much care to as many patients as they would like to,” she continued.
The procedure is still legal up to the 20th week of pregnancy, but Iowa Republicans have made it clear they want to pursue more restrictions, and the landscape has gotten more difficult.
A 2020 law mandating a 24-hour waiting period between an abortion appointment and the procedure itself went into effect this year. Additionally, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed a 2018 decision declaring abortion was a right protected by the Iowa Constitution.
The waiting period in particular has burdened people seeking abortions because it requires two appointments and could mean the pregnant person must seek accommodations if they traveled, which could put them at risk of missing work or having to arrange for child care for their existing children. This is a barrier to many who might seek abortion care, especially considering there are only six in-person abortion providers in Iowa.
“We also now know that the forced 24-hour waiting period is drastically limiting the availability of abortion appointments in the state as the law intended to do,” Stilwell said. “Patients have to wait longer and travel further for abortions, and that has an immense impact on the patients that we serve.”
But the pregnancies continue developing in that time, which means there have been more second-trimester abortions performed since the waiting period went into effect.
In 2020, 95% of abortions in Iowa happened during the first trimester, before 13 weeks, according to data reported to the Centers for Disease Control, with the largest number (2,001) happening at six weeks or less. That year, 5% of abortions in Iowa happened between 14 and 20 weeks.
Stilwell said there’s been a 40% increase in second-trimester abortions since June. There’s also been a 13% increase in people from out-of-state seeking abortion care in Iowa, she said.
“We are serving many Iowans with the abortion care that they deserve, and we are also seeing patients from South Dakota, Texas, Florida, and many other places hundreds of miles from Iowa,” Stilwell said. “As of today, 17 states have banned or near total bans on abortion. And through it all, demand for abortion care in Iowa has not decreased.”
She said these increases are a result of the waiting period and the bans in other states.
Multiple studies conducted across multiple years and a variety of variables suggest waiting periods don’t make much, if any, difference to a person’s decision to get an abortion. It instead only increases the amounts they have to pay and the barriers. The further along the pregnancy, the more invasive and potentially risky the procedure becomes.
“When I mentioned the increase in second-trimester abortions, that is a direct result of the burdens being put on our patients and on our health centers,” Stilwell said. “We know that these are not done out of medical necessity. They are done out of political agenda. And so we are seeing those impacts directly on our patients and the burdens being put on them.”
Tuesday, a Polk County District Court judge upheld an injunction on the six-week abortion ban Gov. Kim Reynolds has pursued since 2018, and again since the US and Iowa Supreme Courts overturned the Constitutional right to abortion.
Reynolds announced she would appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the advocacy for abortion rights isn’t over.
The Iowa legislature is also still pursuing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to explicitly say it does not support the right to abortion.
“People deserve to control their own bodies and futures,” Stilwell said. “Abortion is essential health care. We won this battle and we will keep pushing to protect Iowans reproductive freedom.”
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