60 Iowa lawmakers ask court to overturn 2018 abortion ruling
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sixty Iowa Republican legislators are asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn a 2018 ruling that declared abortion a fundamental right under the state Constitution.
Attorneys for conservative groups opposing abortion filed a brief with the court Monday on behalf of 22 senators and 38 House members, all Republicans. The groups include Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom and Iowa-based The Family Leader.
In June 2020, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued, and a judge struck the law down this June, citing the 2018 ruling.
The judge also concluded that Republican legislative leaders violated a long-standing state law prohibiting passage of bills with more than one subject. The abortion language was a last minute amendment to an unrelated bill passed late on the last day of the 2020 legislative session.
The legislators argued in the court brief that the 2018 decision was wrong for several reasons and should be overturned.
Elissa Graves, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, said the court had “grossly overstepped its authority by forbidding the legislature from enacting reasonable abortion regulations that are supported by the people of Iowa and the U.S. Supreme Court. Nothing in the Iowa Constitution’s text, structure, history, or tradition suggests that abortion is a fundamental right; therefore, the court must act upon its duty to overturn ‘clearly erroneous’ precedent.”
Drake University Law School professor Sally Frank said Republicans have two obstacles to ending abortion in Iowa: the 2018 decision and Roe v Wade. And it would be highly unusual for the high court to overturn a ruling it made just three three years ago, she said.
“I think if a Supreme Court decision is overturned very quickly after it’s been reached and the only difference is a change in the composition of the court, then it makes the court look more political instead of more judicial,” she said.
The court has not set a date for arguments in the appeal.
The 2018 decision was made by a more centrist court now dominated by Republican appointees. Four justices were appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide — and two who were appointed by her Republican predecessor, both of whom opposed the 2018 majority ruling in their own dissenting opinions. The lone Democratic appointee still on the court is the only remaining justice who sided with former Chief Justice Mark Cady, who wrote the 2018 opinion.
In that decision, the court struck down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, ruling that restriction was unconstitutional and that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.”
The court’s 5-2 decision said the mandatory delay violated the Iowa Constitution because the restrictions on women weren’t “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state.”
Many abortion opponents believe they have a good chance of overturning Roe v Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court, thus leaving abortion regulation to each state. Several states with Republican leadership are pushing laws in hopes of getting a case before the court that will lead to that outcome.
A Texas law banning most abortions went into effect overnight, with no emergency action to halt its enforcement as requested from the U.S. Supreme Court. If allowed to remain in force, the law would be the most dramatic restriction on abortion rights in the United States since 1973. The law prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks and before most women even know they’re pregnant.
At least 12 other states including Iowa have enacted bans on abortion early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.