Iowa Supreme Court Reverses 4-Year-Old Abortion Decision, Paving the Way for a Total Ban
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that there is not a fundamental right to obtain an abortion found in the state’s constitution, opening up the possibility that the practice could soon be further restricted or banned.
The decision comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to release its highly anticipated ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which may overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that created the federal right to abortion.
The Iowa Supreme Court’s Friday holding came just four years after the court ruled in a 5-2 decision that such a right existed in the state’s constitution, The Associated Press reported.
Since that time, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has appointed four justices to the bench, meaning six of the seven judges were appointed by GOP governors.
Justice Edward Mansfield, appointed by former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011, authored Friday’s majority opinion, which overturned a lower court ruling from 2020 that found the state’s 24-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion unconstitutional.
The lower court had relied on the 2018 case concluding access to abortion is a fundamental right and therefore any law that impacts that right must undergo strict scrutiny from the court to be upheld.
Mansfield and the other justices joining in his ruling disagreed.
“The Iowa Constitution is not the source of a fundamental right to an abortion necessitating a strict scrutiny standard of review for regulations affecting that right,” Mansfield wrote.
The justice determined that the “undue burden” standard laid out in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey was applicable but that the 24-hour waiting period did not violate that standard.
Mansfield rejected the stare decisis argument made by some legal scholars that the Iowa Supreme Court’s reversal on abortion after only four years makes the court look political or capricious.
Stare decisis is a legal doctrine that literally means “to stand by things decided,” also known as precedent.
“We do not agree that every state supreme court decision is entitled to some minimum try-out period before it can be challenged,” Mansfield wrote.
“Courts must be free to correct their own mistakes when no one else can,” he added, quoting from a legal review article.
The only Democratic appointee to the court, Justice Brent Appel, wrote in a dissenting opinion, “The right to reproductive autonomy should not be eviscerated by narrow textualism.”
Reynolds celebrated Friday’s decision.
“Today’s ruling is a significant victory in our fight to protect the unborn. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed its earlier 2018 decision, which made Iowa the most abortion-friendly state in the country,” she said in a statement.
“Every life is sacred and should be protected, and as long as I’m governor that is exactly what I will do.”
According to the AP, Iowa had been one of six states — including Alaska, Florida, Kansas, Montana and Minnesota — where abortion was considered a right by the state’s high court.
Democratic Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said Friday’s ruling was a “step backwards for Iowa families,” USA Today reported.
“Iowans should always have the final say in making their own healthcare decisions,” she said in a statement, “including abortion, without interference from politicians.”
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe, the Iowa Supreme Court ruling would clear the way for state legislators to pass pro-life laws aimed at restricting or ending abortions altogether in the Hawkeye State.
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