Iowa reaction to landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion

In what has been called the most important abortion rights case for many years, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a 2013 Texas law that had forced more than 20 abortion clinics to close. Writing for the 5-3 majority in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Stephen Breyer determined, “Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer’s opinion. A succinct concurrence by Ginsburg noted, “Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements. […] Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that [Texas law] H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law “would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.”

As Alexa Ura explained at Texas Tribune, today’s decision will not automatically reopen the shuttered Texas clinics. But it could lead to similar laws being struck down in 23 other states, shown on maps in this post by Sarah Kliff and Sarah Frostenson.

Iowa law does not place such restrictions on abortion providers, nor have they been the focus of recent legislative efforts by anti-abortion state lawmakers. But today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision reminded me of the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling from June 2015, which used the same reasoning to reject a state ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion. Just as Iowa Supreme Court justices found no evidence suggesting that women’s health or safety would benefit from being in the same room as a doctor when taking a medication, Breyer’s opinion found nothing in the record supported the claim that the Texas regulations advanced the state’s “legitimate interest in protecting women’s health”; on the contrary, “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”

I sought comment today from Governor Terry Branstad and all members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation, as well as the challengers who had not already released statements on the ruling. I will continue to update this post as needed.

Branstad’s spokesperson did not respond to my inquiry, but the governor commented on the Texas case during his regular weekly press conference this morning. Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson posted the audio and highlights:

“I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court made that decision,” Governor Terry Branstad told reporters a few minutes after the ruling was issued this morning. […]

“I think that the states should have the right to determine those matters, but this was a law that was unique to the state of Texas,” Branstad said. “…We believe the states ought to have the right to be able to protect the safety and well-being of their citizens with regard to abortions.”

The thing is, governor, the Texas regulations in H.B. 2–like the one your appointees on the Iowa Board of Medicine rushed through in 2013–would do nothing to “protect the safety and well-being of citizens.”

Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley did not respond to my request for comment. The campaign of Grassley’s challenger Patty Judge sent out this news release:

DES MOINES, Iowa – U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling this morning striking down a restrictive Texas law which would have dramatically decreased access to health care in the state:

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for women across the country. This ruling reaffirms that women have a constitutional right to make their own health care decisions and sends a powerful message to other states considering this type of restrictive legislation. While this is a victory, we must continue to fight against restricting access to abortion and ensure that women in Iowa and across the country have quality and accessible health care.”

The Judge campaign also sent out a fundraising e-mail blast about the ruling:


This morning, the Supreme Court threw out a Texas abortion access law that would have closed down all but a handful of abortion clinics in the state, leaving women’s access to health care in jeopardy.
This is the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in decades, and serves as a precedent to deter other states from passing their own “clinic shutdown” laws.
Put simply: this is a victory for women in Texas and across the country.
But while we celebrate this victory, let us also remember that Chuck Grassley and Senate Republicans are continuing their war on women’s health care — instead of doing their job and giving President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee full and fair consideration. Taking back Democratic control of the Senate has never been more important.
With today’s victory, momentum is on our side. But we must keep it up. In 72 hours, we hit the most important FEC deadline of my campaign. It’s critical that we have a strong showing.
Can you help my campaign take on Chuck Grassley today?
If you’ve saved payment info with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately.
$5 »

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Safe abortion should be a right, and I’ll fight to protect it in the Senate.

Representatives Rod Blum (R, IA-01), Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02), David Young (R, IA-03), and Steve King (R, IA-04) have not yet responded to my request for comment.

Young’s Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer sent out a fundraising e-mail within minutes of the Supreme Court’s announcement:


Great news! Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of women’s health. It struck down the Texas law that restricted women’s access to vital health services.

But friend, our fight is far from over. David Young and his Republican friends are still going to fight to restrict women’s rights. That’s why we have to defeat him in November. Can you chip in to help us do that?

If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your donation will go through immediately:
Donate $5 immediately >>>
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This is a proud moment in the fight for women’s rights, but there’s more work to do. Chip in now to keep up the fight!



King’s Democratic challenger Kim Weaver posted the following on Facebook:

Banning abortions won’t make them stop. Barriers to access won’t make them stop. We need to focus on WHY people have abortions. Two words: unplanned pregnancies. Decrease unplanned pregnancies, we decrease abortions. To decrease unplanned pregnancies, we increase access to birth control. ‪#‎FocusedOnSolutions‬

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Iowa sent out this statement:

Jill June, Former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Statement on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down some of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion measures, Jill June, Hillary Clinton supporter and former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt is a victory for women across the country, but it is only the first step. A woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions is under constant attack. Donald Trump has said women should be punished for having an abortion and has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood. Iowa House Republicans tried to get a head start on Trump’s agenda this April when they voted to pass a bill removing state funding from Planned Parenthood.

“We must keep fighting back to protect women’s healthcare rights. To me, electing Hillary Clinton president of the United States is a critical next step. Hillary has been a lifelong advocate of a woman’s right to choose. She understands that access to safe, legal abortion has not only saved women’s lives, it has transformed the wellbeing of our families.”

UPDATE: Monica Vernon, Blum’s Democratic challenger in Iowa’s first Congressional district, released this statement:

“As a mother of three daughters, I was proud of today’s Supreme Court ruling – it is a major win for women across the country. It shouldn’t matter where you live in the United States, all women deserve access to safe and affordable health care.”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland released this statement from President and CEO Suzanna de Baca:

“Today is a great day. The Supreme Court made it clear that politicians cannot pass laws to block access to safe, legal abortion. Yet today’s victory does not undo the past five years of damage and restrictions already written into law. No woman or doctor should be punished for receiving or providing essential medical care. We will continue to fight restrictions on safe, legal abortion on behalf of our patients in STATE. We will not be punished, and we will not go back.”

The Iowa Democratic Party released this statement from state party chair Dr. Andy McGuire, who has long been active in the pro-choice community.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision to strike down abortion restrictions in Texas is a bold victory for women’s reproductive rights across the country. Women everywhere deserve access to safe and legal abortions. We should not allow politics to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. Today’s decision sends an important signal to state governments that our nation’s highest Court will not tolerate legislation that attempts to regulate women’s healthcare. A woman, not the government, is in charge of her body. Here in Iowa, we are in constant battle against efforts to defund Planned Parenthood that would limit women’s access to affordable healthcare. I applaud our state legislators who have always been there to fight back against these anti-choice efforts. Every woman has a right to make decisions about her own body, and Iowa Democrats will continue to promote reproductive freedom and protect women’s access to healthcare services.”

SECOND UPDATE: Dr. Christopher Peters, the GOP challenger to Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district, e-mailed this comment.

“I’m a physician, not an attorney, but from what I understand, I believe that the Supreme Court made the correct decision from a legal perspective. As a thoracic surgeon, I cannot comment on the medical and/or safety value of the regulations in question; however, generally, I think we should be cautious of the unintended consequences of legislative restrictions on medical practice.”

THIRD UPDATE: Mowrer’s campaign e-mailed this statement.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling reaffirms yet again that a woman has the right to make her own healthcare choices. Unfortunately, out-of-touch politicians like David Young disagree and want to take us backwards.”

Tony Leys and William Petroski reported for the June 28 Des Moines Register,

“Obviously, it is devastating news,” said Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life. “Unfortunately, this will set back some other cases that are potentially going forward in other states. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would we want to put women’s health at risk?” […]

Under Iowa law, abortion clinics are not regulated by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, as hospitals are. David Werning, a spokesman for the department, said some types of outpatient surgery centers are subject to the agency’s inspections if they accept Medicare insurance. If not, outpatient surgery centers are treated like doctors’ clinics, which are mainly overseen by the physician licensing board, he said. They are not regularly inspected by state officials. […]

[Rachel] Lopez [of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland] said there’s no reason to subject Planned Parenthood clinics to the same level of state scrutiny that hospitals receive.

“Planned Parenthood health care facilities already meet and exceed the highest standards of medical safety, and Planned Parenthood consistently subjects its health centers to rigorous safety audits to identify areas for development. The regulations to which we stringently adhere are consistent with any other health center or clinic, because our services require the same level of medical care as any other health center or clinic,” Lopez said.

As is typical for self-styled “pro-life” activists, DeWitte is willfully blind to evidence that current standards for Iowa clinics providing abortion services do not “put women’s health at risk.” Abortion rarely leads to major complications and is far safer than many other procedures that are regulated less stringently.

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