DES MOINES, Iowa ( Associated Press) – The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for lawmakers to severely restrict or ban abortion in the state, and a court decision just four years ago banning the right to abortion under the Iowa Constitution guaranteed, reversed.
The court, which now consists almost entirely of Republican officials, has concluded that a less conservative court wrongly ruled abortion is one of the fundamental privacy rights guaranteed by the Iowa Constitution and federal law.
Friday’s ruling comes amid expectations that the U.S. Supreme Court will remove the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide will reverse. If that happens, Iowa lawmakers could ban abortion without completing the lengthy process of amending the state constitution.
The Iowa decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by abortion providers that challenged a 2020 law that required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion. A judge who violated the law quoted the state Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling. The judge also concluded that the law violates rules prohibiting the adoption of bills with more than one subject.
The state Supreme Court returned the waiting case to the district court.
In its 2018 ruling, which was decided by a 5-2 vote, the court said “autonomy and domination over one’s body goes to the core of what it means to be free.”
The opinion, which was released on Friday and written by Judge Edward Mansfield, says the court is not obliged to adhere to precedent, especially in cases that evaluate constitutional rights or in cases that have been decided recently.
The reversal reflects a dramatic change in the court’s composition. Gov. Kim Reynolds has appointed four judges since 2017, and six of the seven people on the court have been appointed by Republican governors.
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But Mansfield rejected the argument by jurists and law professors that shifting opinions on such important matters within a short period of time rejected the idea of courts being politicized.
“We do not agree that each state’s Supreme Court decision is entitled to a minimum test period before it can be challenged,” he said.
He said “courts should be free to correct their own mistakes when no one else can.”
Reynolds said in a statement that the verdict was a “significant victory in our fight to protect the unborn.” She and legislative leaders have not said whether they will convene a special session this summer to pass a new abortion law.
Judge Brent Appel, the only Democratic appointment in court, wrote a dissenting opinion stating that “the right to reproductive autonomy should not be eradicated by narrow textualism.”
Chief Justice Susan Christensen also disagreed with the reversal of the 2018 decision, saying little has changed and that since the Iowa legislature began the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to say that abortion is not a fundamental right is not, the people must decide the issue.
“If the majority really wants to leave this issue to the will of the people, it should let the people have their say through the ongoing constitutional amendment process,” she said.
If legislators approve the amendment next year, there could be a vote as soon as 2024.
Reynolds, an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, and Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly said they hope the court will reverse the 2018 ruling, and GOP lawmakers have given the governor more control over the panel that selects nominations for court positions.
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The 2018 decision made Iowa the sixth state – with Alaska, Florida, Kansas, Montana and Minnesota – where abortion rights were recognized by the state’s Supreme Court.
As in Iowa, Republicans control the legislatures and governorships in Florida and Montana, where GOP leaders have been prevented from imposing abortion bans that could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its 1973 landmark decision and places decision-making power in state government hands.
In Montana, a challenge against abortion restrictions that could test his opinion in the Supreme Court is before the Supreme Court.
In Iowa, Reynolds doubted questions about what exceptions she would accept. She said last month she was “proud of the legislation she signed into 2018,” including banning abortions as soon as cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks and often before many women know they are pregnant. The measure included exceptions to protect the life of the mother and in pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.
Even more recently, she has stopped specifying similar exceptions. “I’m not going to set any parameters,” she told reporters.
Data from the Iowa Department of Public Health show that there were 4,058 abortions in Iowa by 2020 – 835 surgical abortions and 3,222 through medication. This was an increase over the previous year when 3,566 abortions were reported. From 2015 to 2019, Iowa averaged just under 3,500 abortions per year.
Court documents show Planned Parenthood performs about 95 percent of Iowa abortions. Surgical and medical abortions can be obtained at clinics in Des Moines and Iowa City. Medication abortions are provided in other clinic locations, including Ames, Council Bluffs and Sioux City.