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Iowa Supreme Court rules state constitution does not protect right to abortion

<i>Charlie Neibergall/AP</i><br/>The Iowa Supreme Court on June 17 ruled that the state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion
Charlie Neibergall/AP
Charlie Neibergall/AP
The Iowa Supreme Court on June 17 ruled that the state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion

By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion, clearing the way for the state’s Republican legislative majority to potentially enact stricter abortion measures.

The court’s decision is a reversal of its 2018 ruling, in which it found that the Iowa constitution’s due process clause protected abortion as a fundamental right. In its 2018 decision — issued before the state’s Republican governor appointed four of the seven current justices — the high court struck down a state law that required a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion as unconstitutional.

“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,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote for the majority.

The court’s ruling concerned a case challenging a 2020 state law that would require women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. The statute had been blocked from going into effect by a lower court.

Iowa lawmakers in 2020 added the 24-hour abortion restriction to a bill limiting courts’ ability to withdraw life-sustaining procedures.

Last year, a district judge blocked the law from going into effect, ruling it unconstitutional because it violated the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 decision and the Iowa constitution’s “single-subject rule” by adding the restriction to an unrelated bill. The state had appealed the lower court’s decision.

In its opinion issued Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and sent it back.

The court also found that “no violation of the single-subject rule took place,” saying that “both pertain to the subject of ‘medical procedures.'”

Chief Justice Susan Christensen, however, concurred in part with the majority opinion, but “out of respect for stare decisis,” dissented from the majority’s decision to overrule the court’s 2018 decision.

Two other justices dissented in part, saying they would rule at this time that the 24-hour waiting period should be considered under a rational basis test.

The US Supreme Court will soon issue an opinion that could reverse Roe v. Wade, transforming the landscape of women’s reproductive health across country and allowing states to set abortion policies. A leaked draft opinion reported by Politico in May showed that the court would strike down its landmark decision.

Iowa currently bans abortion after 20 weeks. The state currently does not have a “trigger law” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The state’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” law, which would ban abortions at about six weeks when early cardiac activity is detected, was struck down in 2019. The legislature has also been working to pass a constitutional amendment that would declare that the state constitution “does not recognize grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

Iowa Republicans, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and state House Speaker Pat Grassley, celebrated Friday’s ruling, calling it a “significant victory” and a “positive step” in their fight against abortion.

Reynolds, who had signed the 2020 legislation and the “fetal heartbeat” bill, said on Twitter that “every life is sacred and should be protected, and as long as I’m governor that is exactly what I will do.”

“As we work to understand the full impact of this decision, Iowans can be assured that Iowa House Republicans are strongly pro-life and remain committed to protecting the unborn and providing additional support for new mothers,” Grassley said in a statement.

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