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Iowa Is a Rare Midwest Abortion Haven. The State Supreme Court Just Destroyed That.

The abortion access dominoes continue to fall, even before Roe v. Wade does.

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The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for lawmakers to severely limit or even ban abortion in the state.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for lawmakers to severely limit or even ban abortion in the state.
Photo: AP (AP)

You would think there couldn’t be anything worse than the impending overturning of Roe v. Wade, which would lead to abortion being banned in about 20 states thanks to unenforced, pre-Roe bans and so-called “trigger laws” that only take effect after the landmark ruling falls. But we are here to report that there is something worse: The gutting of access in states that advocates were cautiously counting on to serve traveling patients in a post-Roe world.

Today, Iowa’s state supreme court gutted its own 2018 ruling that there is a “fundamental right” to abortion in the state’s constitution. It didn’t fully overturn that ruling, but rather said that it would no longer subject state abortion restrictions to the most rigorous legal test when deciding if they can take effect. In plain English: Today’s decision opens the door for the court to uphold future abortion restrictions and even outright bans, like the state’s six-week ban that’s been blocked since 2019.

Iowa is only a haven by comparison to some of the other states surrounding it. While it permits telemedicine abortions and doesn’t currently have a mandatory waiting period, it still has several restrictions, including a mandatory ultrasound law, a ban on Medicaid coverage of abortions, and a ban on abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

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The dispiriting ruling came in a case over a 24-hour waiting period that lower courts had blocked; the state supreme court said the district should re-evaluate that law. In doing so, the high court wrote that the 2018 decision protecting abortion “insufficiently recognizes that future human lives are at stake,” which conveniently erases the current human lives at stake. They also wrote that they “must disagree with the views of today’s dissent that ‘[t]he state does not have a legitimate interest in protecting potential life before viability,’” which is a dog-whistle for saying that they believe Roe was wrongly decided.

In practical terms, this means after the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Iowans will likely have to travel out of state for abortions, and people traveling from other states with bans will have one fewer place to go.

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On the map below, from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Iowa would change from yellow (protected) to coral or red (not protected or hostile):

Image for article titled Iowa Is a Rare Midwest Abortion Haven. The State Supreme Court Just Destroyed That.
Screenshot: Center for Reproductive Rights (Fair Use)
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It’s not only Iowa we have to worry about: Two more yellow/protected states are at risk. As Jezebel noted on Wednesday, lawsuits in Florida over a 15-week ban could lead its state supreme court to overturn Florida’s constitutional privacy protections that cover abortion. And while Kansas relies on a 2019 state Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to abortion, voters will weigh in on an August 2 ballot measure to either keep that protection or amend the state constitution to declare there is no such right.

Support for abortion access is near record highs, so we’ll take this opportunity to remind you that restrictive laws and court rulings happen only through minority rule. Iowa State Supreme Court Justice Susan Christensen implies in her dissent that the only reason for today’s decision is that four new justices were appointed:

Since 2018, the makeup of our court has significantly changed with the appointment of four new justices to replace outgoing justices. Coincidentally, all four outgoing justices were part of the 5–2 majority that recognized a fundamental right to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy in the 2018 case, which the State asks us to overrule just four years later.

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It was just six years ago that the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade, and they now appear ready to strike it down simply because personnel changes gave them the votes to do it.