Judge upholds Iowa’s three-day waiting period

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

Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell ruled Monday that Iowa’s three-day waiting period is constitutional, rejecting a challenge from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which sued in May.

“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,” he wrote in a 48-page decision. “It does.”

The constitutional standard, Farrell wrote, comes from Planned Parenthood v. Casey–whether the law places an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion. SF 47 does not.

“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.”

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

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,” reported Tony Leys and William Petroski for the Des Moines Register.

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.”

There are other provisions in SF 471. The law prohibits abortions performed at 20 weeks and beyond (“that provision was not a focus of the lawsuit,” according to the Register), and also requires that women have the option of viewing an ultrasound and receiving materials about risks associated with abortion.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU immediately filed notice that they plan to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.