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Iowa’s Top Court Strips Planned Parenthood of Delay Law Win

June 17, 2022, 3:04 PM

The validity of an Iowa law requiring people to wait 24 hours after an ultrasound examination to have an abortion must be determined by a state trial court, most likely applying an undue burden test, the state’s top court said Friday in a splintered decision.

The Iowa Supreme Court overruled its 2018 decision holding that abortion is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution’s due process and equal protection provisions and that therefore, a strict scrutiny standard applies to laws restricting abortion access. In that case, the court invalidated a 72-hour waiting period.

The ruling comes as the US Supreme Court is poised to overturn two seminal decisions that established a federal constitutional right to end a pregnancy before a fetus would be able to survive independently outside the womb.

The expected high court ruling—telegraphed by a leaked draft opinion—would send the debate over abortion back to the states, making the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision crucial to the future of abortion access there.

Return to Court

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Inc. scored a big win in 2018, when Iowa’s top court struck down the 72-hour abortion delay rule.

But PPHI was back in an Iowa court just a short time later, seeking to invalidate a substantially similar, but shorter 2020 delay law. A state trial court blocked the law, saying it was bound by the state supreme court’s earlier decision.

A majority of the supreme court’s justices reversed that decision here, rejecting the proposition that there’s a fundamental right to abortion in Iowa’s constitution that justifies subjecting any restriction on the procedure to strict scrutiny review.

The 2018 opinion “lacks textual and historical support,” is “doctrinally inconsistent with prior Iowa” law, “one-sided,” and based on “unsound” constitutional footing, the court said.

The doctrine of issue preclusion doesn’t apply because the two cases aren’t identical, the court also said.

Because the district court granted PPHI’s motion for summary judgment solely on the basis of the 2018 decision, the only remedy was to send it back to the trial court, the supreme court said. The court suggested that the trial court apply an undue burden test, but said it should decide if that test is applicable in light of the US Supreme Court’s upcoming decision.

Justice Edward M. Mansfield wrote the opinion, in which Thomas D. Waterman and Dana Oxley joined.

Justice Matthew McDermott dissented only from the last part of the opinion. The court should have directed the trial court to apply a rational basis test to the constitutional argument, he said. Justice Christopher McDonald joined.

Chief Justice Susan Christensen also concurred and dissented in part. She refused to join the majority’s decision to overrule the 2018 decision out “of respect for stare decisis,” the doctrine that courts should stand by their prior decisions. But she agreed that issue preclusion didn’t apply.

Justice Brent R. Appel joined Christensen’s dissent and filed his own opinion dissenting in total. A person’s right to abortion is fundamental under the Iowa Constitution and any regulation of abortion must be shown to advance a compelling state interest, he said.

Planned Parenthood receives funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Bloomberg Law owner Michael Bloomberg.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office represents the state defendants. Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Foundation represent PPHI.

The case is Planned Parenthood of Heartland Inc. v. Reynolds ex rel. Iowa, Iowa, No. 21-0856, 6/17/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com