With Roe v. Wade overturned, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds vows to protect 'every unborn Iowan'

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·8 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Legal protections for abortion in Iowa have crumbled over the course of a single week.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned legal precedents that have protected abortion rights for decades. The decision comes just one week after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution does not recognize a "fundamental right" to an abortion, reversing a 2018 decision and reducing the procedure's constitutional protection.

Abortion remained legal in Iowa on Friday, but the two landmark court decisions give Iowa lawmakers new freedom to restrict or outlaw the procedure in the state.

More: How are Iowa abortion laws affected by the U.S. Supreme Court's overturn of Roe v. Wade?

Iowa anti-abortion activists and political leaders celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Friday. Gov. Kim Reynolds pledged she "won’t rest until every unborn Iowan is protected and respected.”

"The Supreme Court’s greatest moments have come when it allows America to embody more perfectly the enduring truth on which it was founded: that all human beings, without exception, are created equal," Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement. "By that measure, today’s historic decision is clearly one such moment."

Iowa Democrats vowed "to fight for every Iowan’s right to decide for themselves if, when, and with whom they want to have a family."

“It is a dark day for freedom in our nation as we reckon with the consequences of a 50-years-long vendetta against the freedoms protected by Roe v. Wade," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement.

Whitney Smith McIntosh, a board member for anti-abortion group Pulse Life Advocates, said she was "extremely excited" by the Supreme Court ruling.

"You know, now there's more work to be done to convince women to be responsible with their bodies and to protect life," she said. "We need to change hearts and minds, and that's what we're going to continue to do."

Abortion rights supporters in Iowa said the moment for them felt like "a time for deep mourning." Longtime Cedar Rapids activist Linda Armitage said it left her anguished and fearful.

"We are saddened, we are upset, and we could weep for what we have lost for women's rights," she said.

Iowa law does not immediately change

Abortion is still legal in Iowa; the state's laws did not change following the Supreme Court decision.

Under current law, Iowa allows abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy. The state forbids it after that, with exceptions only to save the life of the mother.

Planned Parenthood, Iowa's largest abortion provider, said Friday's decision "will have no impact on patient care" in the state. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood North Central States announced Friday that it has ceased providing abortions in South Dakota, where a trigger law banning the procedure was set to take effect when the Supreme Court decision came.

"We have been preparing for months to be able to best serve patients across our region," said Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood North Central States. "Our doors are open and Planned Parenthood is committed to providing abortion care where it remains legal."

Republican leaders in Iowa have not announced specific plans for legislative action following the rulings. GOP majorities in the Legislature have previously passed a "fetal heartbeat" ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and a three-day waiting period, only to have them blocked by courts under the now-defunct precedents.

More: Is there a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in Iowa? Planned Parenthood, ACLU say yes.

Abortion advocates prepare to protest; anti-abortion activists plan next steps

Armitage and Smith McIntosh have each been active in the abortion debate for years, leading up to the long-expected overturn of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Armitage, 73, is a board member of the Iowa Abortion Access Fund and a supporter of the Catholics for Choice group. She started advocating for abortion rights when she was 20, a few years before Roe was decided in 1973.

Armitage recalled the joy she felt in that ruling, saying she and other young activists were "stunned in a happy way."

"We finally thought that we had achieved equality," she said. "When you limit women's decision-making about how they make decisions about their own bodies … then really, we don't have lives of our own."

Smith McIntosh, 44, got involved in the anti-abortion movement at 23. She grew up with "feminist" ideals, she said, imparted by a stepmother who worked at Planned Parenthood. She said she became "pro-life" 21 years ago, on the day she first heard her son's heartbeat.

"I was like, OK, that is most definitely not just a clump of cells. That is way more," Smith McIntosh said. "At that point, I had to do everything I could to help defend life."

Both women on Friday were gearing up for next steps. Smith McIntosh said she would keep working to create "a cultural shift" away from abortion while lobbying for a ban on the procedure in Iowa and other states.

Armitage said she would join abortion rights groups rallying in Cedar Rapids. Groups planned protests long before the expected decision, including Friday evening demonstrations in Des Moines, Iowa City and Sioux City.

Representatives of anti-abortion groups said there were few plans to publicly celebrate.

Bob Vander Plaats, president of the conservative group The Family Leader, said some faith organizations in other states had planned "a night of praise and worship" around the decision, "basically giving thanks to God for an answered prayer." He was not aware on Thursday of any similar events in Iowa.

More: 'Our doors remain open' in Iowa, Planned Parenthood says after Supreme Court abortion decision

Decision comes one week after Iowa Supreme Court overturned state protections

The 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that Iowans had a fundamental right to abortion would have kept legal abortion in place in Iowa, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. But on June 17, the court reversed that precedent as it sent back to a lower court a ruling that had blocked a law requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

Under that 2018 precedent, Iowa abortion laws had been judged using a "strict scrutiny" standard. Any restrictions on the procedure needed to be narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest — the highest bar for a law to pass.

Courts have used that standard to block several Iowa abortion laws, including a "fetal heartbeat" measure that would have prohibited most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, a limit that can be reached before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.

Now, Iowa courts will have to take a different approach to abortion law challenges. The Iowa Supreme Court in its June 17 decision instructed a district court to reconsider the 2020 waiting period law applying the "undue burden" legal standard, meaning that if an abortion restriction is too severe or lacks justification, it would be struck down. But the court also said that it is open to reconsidering the legal standard in a future case.

What does this mean for abortion access in the Midwest?

Leaders with Planned Parenthood North Central States said they're expecting patients from states with abortion bans will travel across state lines to receive care.

"We believe we'll have an influx of patients in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota," said Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States. The organization has been recruiting and training new physicians in all three states, she said.

However, although abortion remains legal in Iowa for now, there's little expectation among activists on either side that, with a governor and majorities in both legislative chambers who oppose abortion, it will remain that way.

Nebraska is in a similar spot. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has already announced his intention to call a special legislative session to ban the procedure.

The primary focus for Planned Parenthood will be on Minnesota, which allows abortions until the fetus is viable outside the womb. Traxler said Planned Parenthood has increased its capacity for patients in Minnesota and hired a "navigator" to help patients organize travel.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Tuesday that he will defend individuals who travel to the state to receive an abortion if they face any legal pushback from authorities in their home state.

But there is no question that in much of the region, access to legal abortion will become more difficult — especially for members of marginalized groups, Traxler said.

"We know that people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals and people living in rural communities will be disproportionately impacted by this ruling," she said.

Stoesz agreed, saying that abortion bans "fall highly inequitably" on different groups of people.

"It is fair to say that an abortion ban is not a ban for all people," she said. "It is only a ban for certain people who are unable to travel."

Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at kakin@registermedia.com or at 410-340-3440. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa abortion updates, reactions on Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling