Iowa Supreme Court continues hold on key pro-life law, promises expedited briefing

By Dave Andrusko

Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell Pool photo via KCCI-TV

Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell
Pool photo via KCCI-TV

When last we wrote about Iowa’s new law that among other provisions provides for a three-day period of reflection before an abortion, Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell had just ruled that the waiting period is constitutional, rejecting a challenge from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

Iowa joined Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah in having a three-day waiting period.

The provision in Senate File 471that bans most abortions after 20 weeks was not at issue in the lawsuit.

“The Iowa Act is arguably the strictest mandatory waiting period law in the country, but the only question to the court is whether it complies with the constitutional standard,” Judge Farrell wrote in a 48-page decision released October 2.

“It does.”

On Monday, Iowa Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel granted the plaintiffs’ motion to extend a previous temporary injunction against Senate File 471 until the justices can consider an appeal of Judge Farrell’s decision.

The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski reported that in his order,

Justice Appel wrote that state officials had not resisted the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction during the appeal, provided that an expedited briefing was ordered. The Supreme Court granted the expedited briefing, and the order Monday outlined a schedule for the filing of documents by both parties within the next two months.

Senate File 471 also requires a woman be given the option of viewing an ultrasound, be given the option of hearing a description of the baby as well as his or her heartbeat, and receivinge materials about risks associated with abortion.

Judge Farrell’s analysis

The constitutional standard for judging Senate File 47, Judge Farrell wrote, comes from Planned Parenthood v. Casey–whether the law places an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion.

Senate File 47 does not, he concluded.

“The undue burden standard has been criticized, but it fairly balances the two competing interests of a woman’s right to choose an abortion versus the public’s interest in potential life,” Judge Farrell wrote. “The evidence at trial focused on the hardships women face when dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, but the public’s interest in potential life is an interest that cannot be denied under the law. Both of these interests are important.”

Judge Farrell responded to the argument that the 2016 Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt changes the analytical framework:

The United States Supreme Court has established that the state has an interest in potential life, and that it may promote that interest by requiring informed consent as long as it does [not]create a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion. As stated in Casey, “Under the undue burden standard, a State is permitted to enact persuasive measures which favor childbirth over abortion, even those measures do not further a health interest.” According, as applied to the present case, the analysis from Casey remains unchanged by Hellerstedt.”

In addition, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, one of PPFA’s largest affiliates, “contended that some sections of the law violate the Iowa Constitution, citing a lack of due process and equal-protection rights,” the Register’s Tony Leys and William Petroski wrote in a previous story.

Waiting periods are both common and common sense legislation. According to Ingrid Duran, director of State Legislation for NRLC, 19 states have 24 hour waiting periods, three states have 48 hour waiting periods, and seven states have a 72 hour waiting period. One state has an 18 hour waiting period.

When he signed SF 471, then-Gov. Terry Branstad said it was one of the most prolife bills passed in years. “I have been fighting for the unborn since I ran for the Legislature in 1972, and I have not stopped. I am really pleased with this General Assembly and the progress that was made,” Branstad said at the time. “I think that this year was really a banner year for the pro-life movement. History was made this session.”