Abortion supporters rally before Iowa Supreme Court arguments

Ruth Richardson, Planned Parenthood North Central States President and CEO, addresses crowd before the Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments about allowing a near-total abortion ban to go into effect. Photo by Avery Staker/Staring Line

By Nikoel Hytrek

April 11, 2024

Abortion saved her life seven years ago and Leah Vanden Bosch is more grateful for it now than ever.

Vanden Bosch, who serves as the development and outreach director for the Iowa Abortion Access Fund, said she’s more committed to the work than ever because she’s fully aware of how necessary it is.

“This legislation is harmful, inhumane, and a horrific overreach of power. A politician should never have the authority to dictate their constituents’ bodily autonomy,” she said to a crowd gathered beside the Iowa Supreme Court building on Thursday.

Planned Parenthood hosted Thursday’s rally before the Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging the temporary injunction blocking enforcement of Iowa’s near-total abortion ban, passed in a special session last summer. The court has until June 30 to issue its decision.

The injunction was issued by Polk County District Court Judge Joseph Seidlin three days after the ban was passed by Gov. Kim Reynolds at an evangelical political summit.

Reynolds and Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird quickly asked the Iowa Supreme Court to change the standards for how abortion bans are judged before the new ban could start moving through the courts.

In November, Bird filed a brief asking the justices to dissolve the injunction and allow the ban to go into effect.

“Abortion is legal in Iowa for now, but our access to care is limited. The clinic I went to in Des Moines no longer exists. We currently have four operating abortion clinics,” Vanden Bosch said.

“This is where we’re at with access today: with our 24-hour waiting period resulting in two separate appointments—along with an ultrasound requirement—the total cost to obtain abortion care can extend well beyond the actual procedure,” she continued.

The Ban

Iowa’s near-total ban prohibits abortion after electrical impulses are detected in an embryo—anti-abortion figures falsely call this a “fetal heartbeat,” but no physical heart is present at this point in pregnancy. Most people don’t know they’re pregnant this early either.

The ban has exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies but they’re narrow and the rape and incest exceptions have reporting requirements (45 and 140 days, respectively). However, abortion bans in other states have demonstrated exceptions don’t work in practice and many pregnant people are made to wait for care or are denied entirely. Abortion wait-times are up across the country because of people traveling to states without restrictions.

Health Care

“These decisions about bodily autonomy, it’s not just about abortion. It’s about the overall health care of Iowans. When you cut off access to one form of health care, it impacts health care across the entire spectrum,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, during Thursday’s rally.

Richardson noted Thursday was the start of Black Maternal Health Week and said it was ironic because women of color experience disproportionately higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. Iowa’s infant mortality rate increased 30% from 2021 to 2022 (from 3.99 in 2021 to 5.20 in 2022). This was the biggest increase in the country.

The abortion ban’s impact on health care is Karen Maass’s biggest fear, especially when she considers how it might affect her three granddaughters.

“The minute you put this in, any kind of block, you’re going to have physicians that aren’t willing to take on pregnant women and definitely aren’t going to want to take on any kind of—if something comes up within their pregnancy,” she said. “That scares the bejesus out of me. That’s all I can say.”


Rally speakers also emphasized how Iowans broadly support abortion being legal in all or most cases—61% according to a 2023 Des Moines Register poll—and emphasized how Iowa Republicans have pushed legislation through anyway.

“What really bothers me is this whole state right now, [the Legislature] can pass things that are not the priority of the people. It’s their priority. Actually, it’s Reynolds’ priority,” Maass said. “Why don’t they put [abortion] up for vote? Put it up for vote in November, and I’ll bet you $10 it gets voted in favor of abortions.”

Republicans are unlikely to allow that, and in the meantime, Vanden Bosch and Richardson said Iowans will have to rely on each other.

“A ban will never stop the need for abortion care, and we will never stop working to support those who need it,” Vanden Bosch said. “Let’s trust Iowans to make the decisions that are best for their lives and their bodies. Please support people who need them who need abortions. Stay informed. Keep showing up and tell all your family and friends to do the same. We are the majority. We’re growing and we are strongest when we work together.”

  • 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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