Abortion Waiting Period Is Legal, Rules Iowa Judge

by | October 4, 2017

By Chelsea Keenan

One of Iowa's new abortion laws cleared a judicial hurdle on Monday after a Polk County district judge upheld a three-day waiting period that is now required before obtaining the medical procedure.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the ACLU of Iowa already have filed an appeal of the ruling and will seek a temporary injunction of the law, the organizations said.

"If this law indeed goes into effect, it will leave Iowa with one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country," said Suzanna de Baca, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, in a statement.

"This unconstitutional disregard by lawmakers -- including Gov. Kim Reynolds -- for women and their right to abortion access, is unacceptable. We will fight with every available resource until we ensure that all women have access to the care they need."

This spring, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill -- signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad -- creating new abortion restrictions that include a ban for most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and a 72-hour waiting period for every woman seeking the procedure.

The law also requires a woman to receive an ultrasound and be given the option of hearing a description of the baby as well as its heartbeat.

The law went into effect briefly earlier this summer before the Supreme Court intervened, causing confusion among medical providers and patients. To that end, Judge Jeffrey Farrell said the act will go into effect after a 30-day period.

Twenty-seven other states already have enacted waiting periods, according to information from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health care policy and research organization -- though Iowa joins only a handful of states that have extended that time frame to three days.

The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, challenged the state in court, arguing the second appointment is medically unnecessary and burdensome, especially for low-income women.

The state argued that regulatory agencies have a legitimate interest in regulating the medical profession in promoting public safety and protecting life.

Farrell acknowledged that the law could negatively affect low-income women and is likely to change few people's minds. But, he said, the law itself does not pass the undue burden test.

"There is no question that the second trip will have some impact on low-income women and those who have to drive longer distances," the judge wrote. "However, the fact that there is some burden is not dispositive if the act does not place a substantial obstacle in the way of women getting an abortion."

Gov. Reynolds' office on Monday said it supported the law and was pleased by the decision.

"The law makes it so that a doctor can't perform an abortion unless the mother has an opportunity to see her child through an ultrasound and hear the child's beating heart," said Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor's office. "The law then requires the mother wait 72 hours, giving her time to think about whether or not she wants to stop that beating heart.

"If that time of reflection changes just one mind, then the law has accomplished what it set out to do -- to save a life."

(c)2017 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)