Iowa physicians will be able to determine on a case-by-case basis whether abortion is essential health care for their patients, under an agreement the state reached today with plaintiffs who challenged Governor Kim Reynolds' attempt to halt surgical abortions.
During a telephone hearing in Johnson County District Court this afternoon, the ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic withdrew their request for a temporary injunction to block the governor's public health disaster emergency proclamation, as applied to abortions. Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, told Judge Andrew Chappell that attorneys for the plaintiff and the state had agreed to compromise language "less than one minute before the beginning of this hearing."
Under the order, clinics providing abortion services can resume seeing patients for those procedures, and will be considered in compliance with the governor's March 26 order.
The state presumably struck a deal to avoid a loss in court. On March 30, federal judges in Alabama, Texas, and Ohio blocked similar orders issued by Republican governors, who sought to define abortion as elective surgeries that could be suspended due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. Reynolds had said stopping abortions would preserve personal protection equipment (PPE), but court filings noted that forcing patients to continue pregnancies would likely entail more hospital encounters and use of PPE.
I enclose below a joint statement from the plaintiffs. The Iowa Attorney General's office said in response to Bleeding Heartland's inquiry,
We’re pleased with the resolution as well. Our brief had argued that the proclamation suspended only “nonessential” surgical abortions and that it is appropriate to consider whether the gestational age of the unborn child prevents the mother from obtaining a legal abortion after April 16, 2020.
The governor's staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment. I will update this post as needed. UPDATE: The governor's office did not reply to Bleeding Heartland but provided this statement to other news media: "Gov. Reynolds is pleased that her proclamation remains in full effect and that surgical abortions will not be exempted from this suspension of nonessential and elective surgeries."
Barbara Rodriguez of the Des Moines Register quoted the ACLU's communications director Veronica Fowler as saying the plaintiffs are not dropping the lawsuit "to make sure there aren't other attempts to restrict access" to abortions.
April 1 news release:
Joint Statement from Sarah Stoesz, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, Rita Bettis Austen, Legal Director for ACLU of Iowa and the Emma Goldman Clinic on today’s order from Johnson County court:
“Today, the Court entered an order by agreement of the parties that allows physicians to treat abortion the same as other procedures and allows them to make a case-by-case determination for each patient. Therefore, Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic will resume seeing patients for in-clinic procedures, in compliance with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation.”
We are all hoping for the quick end to this pandemic crisis and, in the meantime, we want to reassure patients that if they need to seek abortion or other reproductive health care services, they should contact Planned Parenthood to consult with a health care provider. We, like all health care providers, must be focused on our patients right now and today’s agreement allows us to do so.”
Top image: Johnson County courthouse in Iowa City, photographed by Vkulikov and available via Wikimedia Commons.