Courts block abortion bans in Iowa and other GOP-run states

DESMOINES, Iowa – With a staunch Republican anti-abortion governor and large legislative majorities in the GOP, Iowa appears poised to outlaw abortion if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Calf.

There’s only one catch: a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that enshrines abortion rights in the state constitution.

“I don’t know if the people of Iowa know things aren’t going to change immediately if Roe. v. Wade will be repealed,” said Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Northeast Iowa Republican and farm manager who has made abortion restrictions a cornerstone of her five-term mandate.

Supreme courts in a handful of states, including other Republican-controlled states, have recognized abortion rights. But in no state is the problem more immediate than in Iowa, where Republicans are calling for a Supreme Court with new, conservative judges to reverse a decision made just four years ago.


The Iowa court decision, due within weeks, is an example of the complexities emerging in states should the US Supreme Court reverse its 1973 decision which legalized abortion nationwide. In particular, it highlights the inevitable confrontation between new abortion bans being prepared in anticipation of Roe’s reversal and state constitutions.

“There are states where this is unknown to some degree and an issue that state courts will likely have to address,” said Helene Krasnof, vice president of public policy, litigation and law for abortion attorneys for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “But that’s an issue that’s present in Iowa right now.”

The Iowa Supreme Court decision under consideration a 2017 law struck down signed by the government at the time. Terry Branstad tells woman to wait 72 hours before having an abortion. The court ruled 5 to 2 that an abortion is a fundamental right protected by the state’s constitutional guarantee of liberty.


“Autonomy and dominion over one’s body is at the heart of what it means to be free,” wrote then-Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died in 2019. “The concept of ordered freedom involves the ability to choose whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy.”

Since that decision, Branstad’s successor, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, has signed other restrictions, including Prohibit abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detected in the embryo and requires a waiting time of 24 hours. Both measures were struck down in the district court. Reynolds appealed the waiting period decision to the Iowa Supreme Court last year.

In the years since Cady’s opinion, Reynolds has appointed four of the seven members of the court. The Republican-controlled Legislature also gave it more control over the process of selecting the panel that recommends potential candidates.


Sally Frank, a professor at Drake University Law School, said if the court overturned a right introduced just four years ago, it would “give a decision here an even more political air than the US Supreme Court”.

But anti-abortion opponents have argued that court rulings in half a dozen states, including Iowa, are examples of laws improperly made by judges rather than elected officials.

“This case is an opportunity for the Iowa Supreme Court to return the matter to the people to decide through their elected representatives in the Legislature,” said Mallory Clark, a spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony List, a national abortion rights opposition group .

Polls show support for keeping abortion legal. The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in September found that 57% wanted abortion to be legal in most or all cases, compared to 38% who said it should be illegal in most or all cases. According to AP VoteCast, a 2020 voter survey, 65% of voters in Iowa said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade should be left as is, while a third said he should be lifted.


Reynolds said she was “proud of the legislation she signed into law in 2018,” including banning abortions once heart activity is detected, as early as six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant. While the measure included exceptions to protect the life of the mother and for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, Reynolds recently rejected any exception.

“I’m not going to set any parameters,” she told reporters last week. “We have a decision in the Iowa Supreme Court and we’re going to wait and see what they do and that will actually affect how we move forward.”

Supreme courts in Alaska, Florida, Kansas, Montana and Minnesota have ruled that their constitutions protect abortion rights. Below them, Republicans hold the legislative majorities and the governorships in Florida and Montana.

In Montana and Florida, challenges to abortion restrictions are before the Supreme Courts of those states.


The majority of Republicans in the Kansas legislature are seeking to overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court decision that declared access to abortion a “fundamental right” with a referendum on August’s ballot to amend the state’s constitution state invalid.

Iowa Republicans are also pursuing a constitutional amendment that would establish that the state constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure an abortion right. The amendment might not stop lawmakers from enacting a legal right to abortion, but it would present an obstacle to any court weighing what the state would need to enforce.

The measure requires a second approval in the Legislature and will likely come next year, said Salmon, the GOP state legislature. If approved, it would go before the electorate, likely in 2024.

It’s removing the abortion guarantee in the 2018 court ruling that would clear the way for lawmakers to outlaw the procedure, Salmon’s ultimate goal.


“That means abortion would not be a service offered in this state,” Salmon said.


Associated Press poll reporter Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Courts block abortion bans in Iowa and other GOP-run states

Sarah Y. Kim

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