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Judge strikes down Iowa's 24-hour abortion waiting period

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A district court judge in Cedar Rapids has blocked a law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last year that requires a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion, marking another setback for attempts by the governor and Republican lawmakers to enact more abortion restrictions in Iowa.

Late Monday, 6th Judicial District Court Judge Mitchell Turner issued a ruling that declared the 2020 law unconstitutional. Abortion rights advocates had asserted it placed an undue burden on women seeking the medical procedure.

In addition, Turner agreed the legislative process leading up to the passage of House File 584  — which passed overnight on the final day of the 2020 Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature — violated procedural requirements laid out in the Iowa Constitution.

According to the ruling, the passage of this law violated the single subject rule, as the abortion requirement had been tacked on as an amendment to another bill passed by the Iowa Legislature. In addition, the legislative process left no opportunity for constituents to provide input on or be fairly informed before the legislation was passed by state lawmakers in the final hours of the Legislative session.

The Governor’s Office made it clear on Tuesday the state intends to appeal the District Court decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

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“In a court ruling issued (Monday), an Iowa District Court wrongly struck down our efforts to protect all innocent human life,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I will be working with our legal counsel to appeal this recent decision, and I believe we can win.”

The state has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Reynolds signed the measure into law as lawyers on either side of the issue made arguments before Turner. Ultimately, he temporarily blocked the law a day before it was set to take effect, on July 1, 2020.

In a news conference Tuesday, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said the organization is “immensely pleased” with the decision to permanently block the law.

“The decision today is really essential for protecting abortion access for Iowans,” she told reporters.

Though the law requires only a 24-hour delay following an initial appointment to receive an abortion, advocates argued that requirement often delays the procedure for a longer period of time. In some cases, that delay may go beyond Iowa’s 22-week limit, effectively putting abortion services out of reach for some women.

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Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and ACLU lawyers also argued requiring an additional appointment created an excess hardship for women, particularly low-income Iowans who face barriers in taking time off work or finding child care.

In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion. In that decision, the justices ruled the Iowa Constitution upholds the highest level of constitutional protection to the right of abortion — even greater than protections granted under federal law.

However, four of the seven Supreme Court members who were in the majority of the 2018 decision have been replaced in the years since. All four justices have been appointed by Reynolds.

However, abortion rights advocates said Tuesday they believe the court will reach the same decision, should this week’s decision be appealed.

“The way that legal precedent works is that it is not supposed to change based on the decision-makers,” Bettis Austen said.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that would make it clear the state does not recognize or grant a right to an abortion.

The proposal faces a long road. Lawmakers would need to agree on the same language in the 2023 or 2024 Legislative session before the measure would appear on the ballot during the 2024 general election. If then approved by the majority of Iowans, the language would be added to the state constitution.

In 2019, a Polk County judge also ruled another legislative effort to restrict abortion — the so-called fetal heartbeat law — as unconstitutional.  That law would have banned abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

The issue has entered the national spotlight this year after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in a major case on a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, with limited exceptions. The case — which the justices are expected to make a decision on by June — could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that affirmed a woman’s right to abortion.

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