Iowa Abortion Law: Abortion Rights and the Iowa Constitution
Updated: Sep 21
As it stands, abortion in Iowa is legal under the state constitution. The voter population is very split, and efforts have been made for over a decade to change the current laws and move towards far more limited abortion access.
According to state law, any woman has a fundamental right to choose to abort a pregnancy. Parental consent of the guardian who has custody of the patient is required if they are below 18 years old and 20 weeks is the latest most abortions are considered legal. Exceptions apply only if a medical condition threatens the health of the woman or the pregnancy is a result of rape or a sexual offense during which they were under the age of consent.
Jamie Burch Elliott- the Iowa public affairs director- is a leading voice in Des Moines advocating against any constitutional amendment that violates human rights. Governor Reynolds is the opposing voice moving to increase the anti-abortion text in the Iowa Constitution's text.
Iowa Supreme Court: Specific Laws and Abortion Restrictions
Iowa has a rising abortion rate and a government conflicted. Conservative groups in the state lobby for any proposed constitutional amendment- of which there have been many- that would make most abortions unlawful. Des Moines pro-choice organizations work to support health care facilities that provide women these services and fight against restrictive changes.
Enacting reasonable abortion regulations that satisfy both sides has proven a difficult task- one that the Iowa supreme court has faced in almost every legislative session in recent times.
Currently, the following laws and restrictions apply.
The post-viability law dictates that a pregnancy cannot be aborted after the time when the fetus could survive and achieve a meaningful quality of life outside the womb. Iowa determines this to be at the end of the second trimester. Women cannot access abortion services in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Only a pregnancy deemed dangerous to women's health, or one that resulted from rape or incest is exempt from this rule.
An exact point of viability is impossible to determine, as every pregnancy is different, but most medical professionals estimate it at 24 weeks. Because of this fact, many pro-choice Iowa voters believe this rule to be unconstitutional. There are currently no motions to extend the allowed time frame, but several attempts have been made to reduce it. To date, no such amendment has been approved.
It is not the first of Iowa's restrictive abortion laws to come under scrutiny. The fetal heartbeat law aimed to disallow abortion any time after a heartbeat was detectable. In most cases, this happens at around six weeks, which is earlier than many women find out they are pregnant.
A bill to include this rule in the Iowa legislature was proposed in 2018. The judge struck it down and implemented a permanent injunction against enforcement on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and violates the fundamental right for women to have a choice to abort an unintended pregnancy.
According to the Iowa constitution, there is no mandatory waiting period for women seeking an abortion in Iowa. Some states require between one and three days from the time of registration to the time of the operation.
In 2018, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill making it a law for all women seeking an abortion must wait 24 hours after registering before proceeding. It was added to an unrelated bill and passed as a last-minute addition. The action was taken despite being turned down by a district court judge.
Planned Parenthood sued against the decision because the law violated Iowa's constitution, and the court ruled in their favor. The court's decision protects access to an immediate termination when requested.
The Iowa supreme court struck down a previous bill calling for a 72 hour waiting period
Who Can Perform Abortion Services
Iowa law restricts who can legally perform an abortion procedure. Many states permit health care professionals who are medically qualified to provide a safe and legal abortion, but Iowa does not. Only a licensed medical physician and surgeon or an obstetric physician and surgeon can perform an abortion in either a dedicated clinic or general hospital.
Abortion clinics must have a dedicated physician on-site as well as health care professionals to provide post-abortion care. It is also possible for women to contact their doctor directly as they may be licensed to perform the operation. Individual clinics and physicians have varying costs and requirements, so it is essential to contact them directly if in need of advice.
Current Iowa Debates
Following Texas's Lead
In May 2021, Texas law-makers passed a bill effectively banning most abortions. The recent changes to Texas abortion law have sparked talks and concerns across the county, as many states question whether similar bills may pass in their courts. Iowa is one of those states.
The state has already voted through a constitutional amendment paving the way for significant changes and reductions to abortion rights. If the legislation is passed by the Iowa supreme court, it would remove public funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation, which currently relies on taxpayer dollars. Additionally, the latest medically unnecessary abortion decision that could be made would be moved to 15 weeks.
The Fundamental Rights Argument
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, these are not reasonable abortion regulations. The proposed amendment claims to protect unborn children and put preserving human life above all else. Planned Parenthood advocates, pro-choice supporters, and many voters in Iowa declare that this is a breach of Iowans' fundamental rights and should not be added to the state legislature.
Opposing opinions state that the constitution does not class abortion as a fundamental right, and therefore has no grounds to stand against restrictions. Politicians on this side of debate appeal for bills denied on these grounds to be overturned based on "clearly erroneous precedent."
In all the north-central states, abortion is a divisive topic. In Iowa, the state's constitution and supreme court face regularly proposed amendments attempting to increase restrictions. Understanding an ever-changing law is complicated but essential to protect one's rights.
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