Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether the state could reinstate an abortion ban around six weeks. The case centered around a 2018 statute that many people believed had “no chance of taking effect,” Justice Thomas D. Waterman observed. Without Court consensus, abortion remained legal until 20 weeks of pregnancy.
That changed on July 11, when Iowa became the second state in the country to ban abortion after six weeks. Fourteen others have banned abortion entirely.
“The voices of Iowans and their democratically elected representatives cannot be ignored any longer, and justice for the unborn should not be delayed,” Governor Kim Reynolds commented. Reynolds will likely sign the legislation into law this week.
However, according to a recent De Moines Register poll, 61% of Iowa voters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Support is even higher among women, Democrats, Iowans younger than 35, and those who live in cities.
The state Senate passed the bill late Tuesday evening, split 32-17 along party lines. It exempts instances of rape and incest reported to law enforcement, miscarriage, times when the pregnancy seriously risks the mother’s health, and pregnancies where fetal abnormalities are “incompatible with life.”
In a press release, Planned Parenthood explained that these are “narrow, unworkable exceptions” that have built-in barriers to care. It also challenged the language Republican lawmakers use in the bill. “The term ‘fetal heartbeat’ is not only factually inaccurate, but purposefully misleading. Medical experts agree that the fetal cardiac activity detectable early in pregnancy is not accurately described as a heartbeat.”
Planned Parenthood North Central States, the Emma Goldman Clinic, and the ACLU of Iowa are working to challenge the law in court.
Though Iowa’s abortion laws held steady after the Dobbs decision, the state’s abortion rate declined. There were higher rates of patients leaving, particularly to Minnesota, to get abortions. Planned Parenthood attributed this to the “uncertainty and fear” wrought by rapidly changing abortion laws across the country.
In June, Planned Parenthood announced that it will close three of its nine Iowa clinics, expanding abortion access at many remaining clinics. Currently, the state has six clinics that offer abortion services: the Emma Goldman Clinic and five Planned Parenthood branches. Two of these branches—in Council Bluffs and Des Moines—were among the three Planned Parenthood will close. The state is also serviced by one telehealth provider called carafem. After a virtual appointment, carafem mails abortion pills that arrive in one to four days.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) could be a key backstop to anti abortion legislation. The amendment would ban gender discrimination and require courts to review it under strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial review. According to the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, the ERA would protect “the full range of reproductive healthcare and is more critically needed now than ever before.”