Iowa Urges State Supreme Court to Implement Strict Abortion Law

Iowa Urges State Supreme Court to Implement Strict Abortion Law

Ruling on Iowa’s six-week abortion ban still pending as state defends law in front of Supreme Court

The Legal Battle over Iowa’s Abortion Restrictions

On Thursday, the state of Iowa asked the state Supreme Court to allow their blocked abortion law to go into effect and uphold it altogether, despite claims from abortion providers that it infringes on women’s rights to exercise bodily autonomy. The law bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and before many women even know they are pregnant. It was in effect for a few days last July before a district court judge put it on pause for the courts to assess its constitutionality. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds appealed the decision with the state Supreme Court’s permission. Meanwhile, abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy while the new law is on hold.

This latest hearing in Iowa is only the latest in a yearslong legal battle over abortion restrictions in the state. The state Supreme Court would issue a decision by the end of its term in June, but that might not be the issue’s conclusion because the question of what constitutional standard the court should use to assess abortion laws in the state remains unanswered. The high court could decide to end the temporary pause without ruling on the law’s constitutionality or the standard to use in assessing it, instead sending the case back to lower courts for full arguments there.

The Legal Arguments of Each Side

The state argues the law should be analyzed using rational basis review, the lowest level of scrutiny to judge legal challenges. Representing the state, Eric Wessan said it’s important “after years of litigation” that Iowa’s high court say that definitively in their decision. He added that “the state is confident that this law, which was duly enacted by the legislature and is entitled to the presumption of constitutionality, will survive that review.”

Planned Parenthood attorneys disagree with Wessan, stating that the Iowa Supreme Court doesn’t have to follow the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) case, and instead should embrace the undue burden standard in Iowa to “chart its own path.” They explain that the issue of what standard to use in evaluating Iowa’s abortion laws remains unanswered because Iowa’s high court has not yet resolved whether earlier rulings that applied an “undue burden test” for abortion laws remain in effect. If Iowa were to adopt the “undue burden test,” it would require laws to not create a significant obstacle to abortion.

“It is emphatically this court’s role and duty to say how the Iowa Constitution protects individual rights, how it protects bodily autonomy, how it protects Iowan’s rights to exercise dominion over their own bodies,” argued Planned Parenthood attorney Peter Im.

The Impact of the Law on Iowa Women’s Access to Abortion

The debate over Iowa’s six-week abortion ban is significant because it would dramatically restrict Iowa women’s ability to access abortion. The law includes limited circumstances that would allow for abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, including rape, if reported to law enforcement or a health provider within 45 days; incest, if reported within 145 days; if the fetus has a fetal abnormality “incompatible with life,” or if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the woman.

The impact of the law on women’s access to abortion would be significant because many women don’t realize they are pregnant within the first six weeks. As the law is currently blocked, abortion remains legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, but if the Iowa Supreme Court upholds the law and determines that rational basis review should be applied to evaluate its constitutionality, it could become much more difficult for Iowa women to access abortion in the future.

The Final Decision Is Still Pending

For now, the Iowa Supreme Court’s final decision on whether to uphold Iowa’s six-week abortion ban and what standard to use in evaluating the constitutionality of Iowa’s abortion laws is still pending. The state is optimistic that the law will be found constitutional, but it may still go back to lower courts for further review.

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