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Des Moines, Iowa — A district court judge struck down Iowa's minimum 24-hour forced waiting period for an abortion law, ruling it unconstitutional. The ruling strikes down legislation passed by state lawmakers late at night in the final hours of the 2020 legislative session. 

The lawsuit, brought by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Dr. Jill Meadows, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the ACLU of Iowa, sought for the medically unnecessary and burdensome law to be declared unconstitutional and to be permanently struck down. The state has 30-days to decide whether to appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, which has already ruled a similar 72-hour forced waiting period and second trip requirement for abortion unconstitutional.

“Today the court confirmed what we knew when anti-abortion politicians in Des Moines rammed this legislation through—this medically unnecessary and harmful abortion restriction infringes on Iowans’ fundamental rights,” said Jamie Burch Elliott, Iowa Public Affairs Director for Planned Parenthood North Central States. “Instead of wasting time and taxpayer dollars on political overreach, lawmakers need to support health care that meets the needs of Iowans and their unique circumstances. Thankfully, the court’s decision protects access to safe and legal abortion for now. But the decision also underscores why it’s crucial that our state constitution continues to protect the right to abortion—and that’s why we must fight the proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment that lawmakers are currently trying to push through at the capitol.”

The law that was struck down would have set up medically unnecessary obstacles for Iowans that would have delayed and even prevented them from obtaining care. That’s because many people, in order to get abortion services, must find reliable transportation, drive for hours, take time off of work and arrange for childcare. Delays in abortion care, and required additional travel, would have effectively put abortion out of reach for many Iowans.

The district court today recognized the prior Iowa Supreme Court decision, finding that: “The Act’s mandatory delay indiscriminately subjects all women to an unjustified delay in care, regardless of the patient’s decisional certainty, income, distance from the clinic, and status as a domestic violence or rape victim. The Act takes no care to target patients who are uncertain when they present for their procedures but, instead, imposes blanket hardships upon all women.” 

And while this law would subject many patients to these delays for weeks, regardless of the fact that they are certain of their decision, for some, the delays and additional appointment requirement would cut them off from abortion altogether.
In its summary judgment, the court carefully analyzed the problems and irregularities that politicians who passed this law used to go around the normal legislative process. Legislators had tacked the measure onto an unrelated bill and passed it in less than 24 hours, which prevented Iowans from having a say in the legislative process. It found that “this is an extreme case” and that “the Amendment is indisputably not germane to the underlying bill.”

The judge flagged, as a legislator had, the irony of the legislature taking less than 24 hours to consider a bill that forces Iowans to wait at least 24 hours after their first medical visit before having an abortion. It also ruled that the harm to patients outweighed any potential benefits and violated Iowans’ constitutional rights. 

As with the 72-hour forced waiting period at issue in a previous Iowa Supreme Court ruling, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa were able to show substantial harms to patients subject to the forced delays and unnecessary clinic appointment. The district court also called out the lack of transparency in the legislative process, citing the undisputed fact that most Iowans would have been asleep by the time the legislation was passed in final form.  

This order granted a permanent injunction, which blocks the 24-hour mandatory delay law moving forward. The court also previously blocked the law on a temporary basis while the court was considering the merits of the case. The decision today was essential to protecting abortion access for Iowans,” said ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen. “We are grateful to the district court for its careful attention to this important case. The Iowa Supreme Court has recognized that the right to safe, legal abortion is fundamental and protected by our constitution. Today’s decision protects that right.”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides, promotes, and protects reproductive and sexual health through health services, education, and advocacy. An affiliate of America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care, PPHeartland is proud to offer a full range of high-quality services at health centers in Iowa and Nebraska.
The ACLU of Iowa is a private, non-partisan organization that fights to advance civil liberties for all. It is the state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU prides itself in upholding everyone’s civil liberties, no matter who they are or what they believe. We work to assure the rights of all Iowans—from atheists to devout Christians, from labor unions to businesspeople and more—to make sure the constitutional rights of all are preserved. For more information, please go to www.aclu-ia.org.