Iowa Supreme Court rules state constitution doesn't guarantee fundamental right to abortion

The Court's decision overruled its 2018 determination in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v Reynolds, which an Iowa Supreme Court judge had cited in striking down a law that required women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.

Updated: June 17, 2022 - 4:13pm

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday the Iowa Constitution does not guarantee a fundamental right to abortion.

The Court's decision overruled its 2018 determination in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v Reynolds, which an Iowa Supreme Court judge had cited in striking down a law that required women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that a limit on abortion and a limit on withdrawing life-sustaining procedures are both related to “medical procedures,” as stated in the bill’s title; that a 72-hour waiting period is not the same as a 24-hour waiting period; that issue preclusion didn’t bar it from revisiting the decision; and that fact-finding in PPH II occurred in a constitutional framework with burden on the State.

“Although we overrule PPH II, and thus reject the proposition that there is a fundamental right to an abortion in Iowa’s Constitution subjecting abortion regulation to strict scrutiny, we do not at this time decide what constitutional standard should replace it. … All we hold today is that the Iowa Constitution is not the source of a fundamental right to an abortion necessitating a strict scrutiny standard of review for regulations affecting that right,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote in the majority opinion. “For now, this means that the Casey undue burden test we applied in PPH I remains the governing standard.”

The court’s decision returns the waiting-period case to district court.

“Today’s ruling is a significant victory in our fight to protect the unborn,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement. “The Iowa Supreme Court reversed its earlier 2018 decision, which made Iowa the most abortion-friendly state in the country. Every life is sacred and should be protected, and as long as I’m governor that is exactly what I will do.”

Sen. Maj. Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said Senate Republicans support the decision.

“People who cannot defend themselves are the ones most in need of protection from the government,” he said.

The decision was also a victory for separation of powers, Whitver said.

“The Supreme Court’s decision on single subject strengthened the legislature’s independence and constitutionally protected powers to write the laws of this state,” he said. “Undoing a constitutional right manufactured simply by judicial fiat and solidifying the legislature’s independence is a remarkable display of judicial restraint. On behalf of my fellow Republican Senators I thank the Supreme Court for today’s ruling.”

Iowa Democrats said in a tweet Friday that since abortion remains legal in Iowa, “go to your appointment, make an appointment if you need it, and get the care you need.”

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic candidate Ryan Melton said in a tweet Friday that the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision that abortion rights are not protected by the Constitution may lead to abortion bans, restriction or criminalization.

“This trajectory will not actually end abortion, but I fear it will criminalize womanhood,” he said.

Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville said the decision is “a direct assault” on Iowa women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions. He called for Iowa voters to vote for Democrats at every level of government to protect the right to self-determination.

Reynolds appointed four of the seven current justices.