The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning about ending the injunction on Iowa’s six-week abortion ban.
Peter Im, staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, argued for Iowa abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City.
“We’re very hopeful on the merits,” he said at a press conference after the court appearance. “We’re hopeful that the judges really will take our arguments into consideration and will keep the ban enjoined and keep reproductive health care access for all.”
Rita Bettis Austen, the legal director of the ACLU of Iowa said during the press conference the decision is expected by the end of June, which is also the end of the Supreme Court’s term.
Abortion is still legal in Iowa until 20 weeks of pregnancy. Patients must wait 24 hours between a consultation and having the procedure done.
During the court appearance, both sides argued their case for whether the ban should be allowed to take effect.
Arguing for the state was Chris Schandevel, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the legal organizations behind most abortion challenges and efforts to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people across the country.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law in 2018 to ban abortion around when electrical activity is detected in an embryo, which is around the six-week mark.
The six-week ban was put under an injunction when the Iowa Supreme Court at the time ruled the right to abortion existed in the Iowa Constitution. After that ruling was overturned last year, Reynolds appealed the injunction.
A district court judge declined to remove the injunction in December, so Reynolds appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Im, the Planned Parenthood attorney, said the argument based on women’s rights isn’t gone even if the court ruled last year that there was no fundamental right to abortion protected by the Iowa Constitution.
Abortion is no longer protected by strict requirements that laws be narrowly tailored, but Im said the undue burden standard—a medium ground between the strictest and loosest requirements—is still in place.
“And that should be the standard because that balances all the interests at stake and still protects pregnant people’s rights to privacy, to liberty, and to bodily autonomy,” Im said.
Because a six-week ban would ban almost 98% of abortions in Iowa, according to Planned Parenthood, it would not meet the undue burden test, Im said.
The majority of people learn they’re pregnant at or after the six-week mark when the embryo is barely visible and the gestational sac is less than half-an-inch big. Anti-abortion activists and groups call six-week bans “fetal heartbeat” laws, but at six weeks, there is no heart and a pregnancy is not in the fetus stage.
Austen of the ACLU said another key part of their argument is that Iowa lawmakers knew the six-week ban would be unconstitutional when they passed it in 2018, and so it should not be allowed to take effect.
“This abortion ban was dangerous, cruel, and unconstitutional at the time that it was passed. And it remains dangerous, cruel, and unconstitutional,” she said. “Today, we’ve seen the harm to patients’ lives and health in other states where abortion is banned, and we are desperate to protect Iowans from this same heartless, unsafe restriction here.”
Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said the organization is prepared to deal with a six-week ban. Planned Parenthood is also managing an onslaught of people traveling to Iowa for care, fleeing other states with bans, and expanding wait times. The rate of second-trimester abortions has increased as a result.
Stilwell said they’ve learned from other providers in states such as Texas.
“Planned Parenthood will always abide by the laws in place and will always remain compliant with those,” she said. “And to that end, we will continue to offer all available health care services that that Iowans have come to rely on from Planned Parenthood.”
They’ll have to wait for the final decision from the Iowa Supreme Court to know what those services can be.
“We know that when it comes to safe and legal abortion, Iowans absolutely support reproductive freedom and have consistently done so,” she said. “We know that 61% of Iowans want abortion to remain safe and legal in this state and to suggest otherwise or to try to sway them through the use of tricky language and intentionally misleading language is just disingenuous.”
That figure comes from recent Des Moines Register polling, showing 61% of Iowans agree abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
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