Iowa Supreme Court holds state constitution protects right to abortion

Five Iowa Supreme Court justices ruled today that a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for all women seeking abortion violates due process rights and equal protection guaranteed under the state constitution. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa had challenged that provision, part of a law Republican legislators and Governor Terry Branstad enacted in 2017.

Today’s decision guarantees that the 2018 law banning almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected will be struck down. A lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Iowa, and the Emma Goldman Clinic is pending in Polk County District Court.

In addition, the ruling indicates that even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the coming years, Republicans will be unable to ban or severely restrict abortion rights in our state.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Mark Cady rejected the “undue burden” standard for evaluating abortion restrictions, set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1992 Casey decision. I enclose below the full text of the majority opinion and the dissent by Justice Edward Mansfield, whom President Donald Trump has named as a possible U.S. Supreme Court pick. I’ve excerpted some of the most important passages.

A separate section of the 2017 law, banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks gestation, was not challenged in this case and remains in effect.

Some Iowa judicial trivia: today marks the second time the Iowa Supreme Court has overturned an abortion-related ruling by Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell. He had also upheld the administrative rule banning the use of telemedicine for abortion. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down that rule in 2015.

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What passes for a good day in the GOP-controlled Iowa legislature

Let’s start with the good news:

• Two important bills for K-12 schools are headed to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk.

• Assuming the governor signs the bills, district leaders know how much state funding they will receive before the April 15 deadline for certifying K-12 budgets. (That hasn’t always been the case lately.)

• A longstanding inequity in school funding has been fixed–for now.

Unfortunately, both bills fall far short of what Iowa schools need, thanks to Republican choices.

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Exclusive: Two health giants block Iowans from medical cannabis program

Doctors affiliated with Mercy Cedar Rapids and The Iowa Clinic are refusing to sign paperwork their patients need to register for the Iowa Department of Public Health’s medical cannabis program. Iowa law requires applicants to obtain their doctor’s signature attesting that the patient has a “qualifying debilitating medical condition.” But the law stipulates that health care practitioners have “no duty to provide” written confirmation of the patient’s diagnosis.

Mercy Cedar Rapids appears to have instructed its 503 physicians not to sign the IDPH paperwork, according to two sources with qualifying conditions, who receive health care at different facilities in that network. Most if not all of the 250-plus health care providers at The Iowa Clinic, a doctor-owned group in the Des Moines area, are also refusing to sign medical cannabis card applications.

Without cooperation from a primary care provider, Iowans cannot start the process of receiving authorization to use cannabidiol legally. The number of patients affected by their health care group’s policies is unknown but potentially large. Mercy Cedar Rapids handled 451,400 outpatient visits last year at offices around Iowa’s second largest metro area. The Iowa Clinic averages 450,000 visits annually, serving about 148,000 unique patients across its central Iowa locations.

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Republicans couldn't find one person to testify for bad immigration bill

Republican State Representative Steve Holt has described a bill seeking to ban “sanctuary cities” in Iowa as a “common-sense issue for a lot of people.” At an Iowa House Public Safety subcommittee meeting on January 30, Holt and fellow Republican Greg Heartsill voted to advance this poorly thought-out and possibly unconstitutional legislation, even though supporters couldn’t recruit a single person to speak in favor of it.

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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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The 17 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2017

I had mixed feelings about compiling last year’s review of highest-traffic posts. Being hyper-aware of clicks and views can be demoralizing, because the most labor-intensive stories rarely attract the most attention.

On the other hand, it’s fascinating to see what strikes a chord with readers. A preview of stores coming to an outlet mall in Altoona was the fourth most-read Des Moines Register article of 2017. The second most popular New York Times story contained highlights from a boxing match. And this year’s highest-traffic piece at USA Today was about the “kiss cam” at the NFL Pro Bowl.

During an unusually eventful year in Iowa politics, some hot topics at Bleeding Heartland were predictable. But surprises were lurking in the traffic numbers on posts published during 2017 (418 written by me, 164 by other authors).

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