Where things stand with Iowa's new anti-abortion law

Ten days after Governor Terry Branstad signed sweeping limits on access to abortions, part of the new law is still on hold while courts consider a challenge filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Planned Parenthood maintains that a 72-hour waiting period for abortions at any stage of pregnancy would violate women’s due process and equal protection guarantees. In addition to creating an “undue burden” for women with “onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions that the Iowa Legislature does not impose upon any other medical procedure for which people may consent,” the law imposes new requirements for physicians, which Planned Parenthood is challenging as a violation of the doctors’ due process rights.

That aspect of the lawsuit informed the Iowa Supreme Court’s May 9 order continuing a temporary injunction. The high court found, “The State has failed to rebut the assertion by the petitioners that the materials that serve as the foundation information required to be provided to women seeking an abortion have not yet been developed by the Department of Public Health pursuant to the law.” The order remanded the case back to Polk County District Court, where within 30 days, Judge Jeffrey Farrell will hold a final hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction on the new law. Farrell had denied the first request for a temporary injunction, saying plaintiffs had not shown new burdens on women seeking abortions in Iowa would constitute an “undue burden.”

For those who want a preview of the legal points Farrell will consider when he decides whether to block enforcement of Iowa’s law, I enclose below four documents:

• The State of Iowa’s brief arguing against a temporary injunction. The Attorney General’s Office highlighted the state’s “recognized interests in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the unborn child,” saying there is a “rational basis” to require informed consent and that such rules do not constitute an “undue burden.” The brief further argued that neither Iowa courts nor the U.S. Supreme Court have recognized a constitutional right to “abortion on demand.” Women seeking abortions will not be harmed “other than by having to reschedule these appointments,” and plaintiffs have not shown anyone “will be unable to reschedule” or “will face increased travel costs, employment consequences, or the inability to receive a medication or surgical abortion” due to the new waiting period.

• Planned Parenthood’s response brief arguing that the organization and its patients will face “irreparable harm” if the law goes into effect. The “concrete and real” harms include possible health or legal complications if women lack “timely access” to abortion, as well as significant monetary costs for low-income women who will need to spend more on travel and/or child care and may miss more work because of additional appointments that are not medically necessary. The brief also claims Iowa’s law will be “particularly harmful for women who are the victims of rape, abuse, and/or intimate partner violence, as well as women seeking to terminate a wanted pregnancy due to a fetal anomaly.”

• The affidavit of Jason Burkhiser Reynolds, manager of Planned Parenthood’s largest clinic in Iowa. He described problems the proposed 72-hour waiting period created for patients who had scheduled abortions for the day Branstad signed Senate File 471 into law. For some women, the delay would have meant extra travel costs and more unpaid time off work, jeopardizing their ability to cover other essential household expenses.

• An amicus brief filed by Roxanne Conlin on behalf of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and the National Women’s Law Center. These groups support Planned Parenthood’s contention that the new law would cause “irreparable harm” to women seeking an abortion, threatening their health and safety. In particular, the brief highlights disproportionate burdens on women in rural areas, living in poverty or working low-wage jobs, those who have become pregnant due to sexual assault, and those who experience intimate partner violence. Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court denied as moot this motion to file an amicus brief while remanding the case to District Court. But the case will certainly return to the high court eventually, regardless of how Judge Farrell resolves the request for an injunction during the coming month.

I also posted comment on the Iowa Supreme Court’s latest action from the ACLU of Iowa, which along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America is representing Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in this case.

UPDATE: To clarify, Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit and the temporary injunction apply to Section 1 of Senate File 471, including the waiting period, new ultrasound requirements, and mandatory information doctors must provide to women seeking an abortion. The Supreme Court has not blocked enforcement of Section 2, which prohibits almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions in the case of severe fetal abnormalities.

May 9 statement from the ACLU of Iowa:

– The Supreme Court’s order continues the temporary injunction on the forced 72-hour waiting period and medically unnecessary additional trip while remanding the case to the district court for a hearing on the temporary injunction once the record has been more fully developed.

– For example, the order notes that the new law would require the Iowa Dept. of Public Health to develop materials that would be distributed to women in Iowa seeking an abortion, those materials have not even been developed, despite the law’s immediate effective date.

– The order also provides an important safeguard that the temporary injunction will remain in place for 10 days after the district court issues a decision on the matter of the temporary injunction, which would protect the petitioners for a brief period in the event a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court is necessary.

– The order requires that a hearing on the Temporary Injunction be heard within 30 days by the district court unless the parties are able to stipulate to a different schedule.

Statement from Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director:

“We are relieved that this Order will protect Iowa women while our case now proceeds at the district court on the matter of the temporary injunction.The order continues to block the 72-hour minimum waiting period and medically unnecessary additional appointment of the law for this next phase of the case. Critically important, this means that currently, women scheduled to have abortion procedures will be able to receive care as scheduled. This is essential. We know that in less than only 2 hours the law was in effect on Friday, its harms were severely felt by Iowa women with abortion procedures scheduled.”

Statement from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Medical Director Dr. Jill Meadows, a plaintiff in the case:

“This ruling means that while this case moves through the court, women will continue to have access to the safe, legal abortion care they are constitutionally entitled to receive. Just last week, women’s lives were hurled into chaos during the two hours that this law was active. One woman had to return to basic training and feared jeopardizing her military career. One was a high school senior desperate to not become another statistic. One mother of four feared for her health, as her last two pregnancies had nearly killed her. One worked three jobs and was frantically trying to calculate how she could possibly take another day off. Like many women whose circumstances create serious barriers to care – especially rural and low-income women – this disruption created potentially insurmountable obstacles.”

Statement from Suzannna de Baca, President/CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland:

“We are pleased and relieved by today’s ruling by the Court,” and that for now we can continue providing the health care that women have come to rely on. We are hopeful that the Court will ultimately agree that Iowa women, whose right to safe, legal abortion has been accepted law for 44 years, continue to have the protection that has been guaranteed under the Iowa constitution.”

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