Abortion Still Legal After Iowa Supreme Court Splits 3-3

Iowa Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines/Shutterstock photo

Abortion is still legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The Iowa Supreme Court split 3-3 in deciding whether to uphold or deny Iowan’s abortion rights. That means the 2022 district court judge’s ruling not to lift the injunction holds and the six–week ban will not go into effect.

Chief Justice Susan Christensen and Justices Thomas Waterman and Edward Mansfield voted to uphold the district court’s decision. Justices Christopher McDonald, Matthew McDermott, and David May ruled to reverse it.

Justice Dana Oxley recused herself from the case.

“Today’s case presents the State’s second attempt at a shortcut to adopting Dobbs. Nothing has changed since last summer to warrant adopting Dobbs in this extraordinary proceeding,” Waterman wrote.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a six-week abortion ban in 2018.

The law would ban abortion around when electrical activity is detected in an embryo, which is around the six-week mark. 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. A six-week ban would ban almost 98% of abortions in Iowa.

Anti-abortion activists and groups call six-week bans “fetal heartbeat” laws, but at six weeks, a pregnancy is not in the fetus stage and there is no heart.

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.

There were a lot of questions about how the justices would rule considering the original law was passed in a completely different time. At the time, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey were still in effect, limiting the extent to which states could restrict abortion rights. This case also had a lot of technicalities about legal procedure.

Iowa Republicans have been waiting for the court’s decision before pursuing any further action about abortion, but a group of far-right Republicans in the Iowa Legislature did sign onto a bill that would have banned nearly all abortions in the state. The bill didn’t go anywhere.

Recent polling has shown support for abortion being legal is at an all-time high in Iowa at 61% and at 78% in the rest of the country. A vast majority of Americans think abortion decisions should be made by the pregnant person and their doctor, and should be legal in all or most cases.

“We return to Wright to highlight one more point. It would be ironic and troubling for our court to become the first state supreme court in the nation to hold that trash set out in a garbage can for collection is entitled to more constitutional protection than a woman’s interest in autonomy and dominion over her own body,” Waterman wrote in closing his opinion.



Nikoel Hytrek


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