Judicial

Iowa Supreme Court says no right to abortion in state constitution, reversing its own 2018 decision

By Dave Andrusko

In a 182 page opinion, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled this morning  “that the state’s constitution does not include a ‘fundamental right’ to abortion, reviving a law requiring women to wait 24 hours after an initial appointment before getting an abortion,” Reuters reported.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Edward M. Mansfield said the previous ruling that established a constitutional right to an abortion “insufficiently recognizes that future human lives are at stake and we must disagree with the views of today’s dissent that ‘[t]he state does not have a legitimate interest in protecting potential life before viability’.

In the 2018 ruling, written by Chief Justice Mark Cady and overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court today, the court said that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.” 

In 2020 Iowa’s pro-life Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the 24-hour waiting period.  As the Iowa Supreme Court noted, “On June 23, 2020, before HF594 was actually signed into law, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and its medical director, Dr. Jill Meadows, filed a petition in Johnson County District Court challenging the 24-hour waiting period.”

Justice Mansfield observed, in explaining why stare decisis principles don’t weigh heavily in favor of retaining the 2018 ruling,  that 

PPH II [the 2018 decision] was overtly based on the notion of a “living” constitution…. To the extent PPH II viewed constitutional interpretation as an evolutionary process rather than a search for fixed meaning, it is hard now to argue that the evolutionary process had to end as soon as PPH II was decided. Does the Iowa Constitution get to “live” until 2018, at which point it must stop living?

For her part, Gov. Reynolds applauded the court’s decision.

“Today’s ruling is a significant victory in our fight to protect the unborn,” she said. “The Iowa Supreme Court reversed its earlier 2018 decision, which made Iowa the most abortion-friendly state in the country. Every life is sacred and should be protected, and as long as I’m governor that is exactly what I will do.” 

The Iowa justices said they “are not blind to the fact that an important abortion case is now pending in the United States Supreme Court,” a reference to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“While we zealously guard our ability to interpret the Iowa Constitution independently of the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Federal Constitution, the opinion (or opinions) in that case may provide insights that we are currently lacking,” today’s ruling said. “Hence, all we hold today is that the Iowa Constitution is not the source of a fundamental right to an abortion necessitating a strict scrutiny standard of review for regulations affecting that right.”  

With today’s ruling, the waiting period case was returned to the district court.

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