Judge hears arguments over Iowa abortion waiting period

Judge hears arguments over Iowa abortion waiting period


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Abortion rights advocates Monday asked a judge to temporarily block a law that, starting Wednesday, requires any Iowa woman seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours.

Alice Clapman, an attorney for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, argued the waiting period would require pregnant women to make two trips to a provider, which could increase the medical risk depending on far along the woman is in the pregnancy, which must to performed within 20 weeks in Iowa.

Many patients have to travel hours to receive abortion services because there are only six providers in the state, Clapman said during a phone conference hearing in Johnson County District Court. If patients require a procedure instead of a medical abortion, there are only two in the state — Iowa City and Des Moines.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Thomas Ogden, arguing for the state, said the petitioners were asserting constitutional rights that don’t belong to them. Planned Parenthood has no standing — or legal rights — to make the claims, he said.

The organization hasn’t proven how it — rather than the abortion patients who aren’t before the court — would be “irreparably harmed absent an injunction,” according to the state’s brief.

Clapman also argued the measure violates a “single subject rule” of bills in the Iowa Legislature because the last-minute addition of the waiting period wasn’t “germane” to the rest of House File 594.

According to the provider’s petition asking for an emergency injunction, HF 594 originally was described as “an act relating to limitations regarding withdrawal of a life-sustaining procedure from a minor child.”

Abortion doesn’t relate to any procedures that were in the bill before it was amended, Planned Parenthood argued. During a late-night legislative session, a state representative and the Speaker of the House had agreed the abortion issue wasn’t germane to the underlying bill, the petition asserted.

The purpose of the single subject rule is to prevent lawmakers — and voters — from being surprised over what is included in one piece of legislation.

Clapman noted that three years ago, both parties were in court arguing over much the same issue — only then it was a 72-hour waiting period, which was ruled contrary to the state constitution.

She questioned the timing of legislators who brought this up during a pandemic when travel from home is recommended to be minimized.

Planned Parenthood asked for a temporary injunction while this case is further litigated.

Ogden said the question of the legal standing of Planned Parenthood to sue on behalf of Iowa women wasn’t argued before or considered by the Iowa Supreme Court in its two most recent decision on abortion limits.

The court should apply the same third-party standing requirements to Planned Parenthood as it does anybody else, he argued.

Ogden also argued that the title of bill explains what is in it — “An act relating to medical procedures including abortion and limitations regarding the withdrawal of a life-sustaining procedure from a minor child.”

That the bill passed on “a party-line vote” at the end of the session earlier this month wasn’t unusual, he said.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner questioned Ogden on that timing. According to the information he said he read about the bill, he didn’t know if “abortion” was mentioned in the title before 10:18 p.m. that night. The bill then passed the Iowa House 40 minutes later.

It went to the Iowa Senate and passed about 4 a.m. without public debate. Most Iowans were probably asleep by then, he noted.

Ogden said it’s not uncommon that bills are passed at the last minute.

Turner noted there were other abortion bills introduced in the 2020 session that were subject to public debate — but none passed. He said it seemed like lawmakers didn’t want to pass an abortion bill.

Ogden said this one may have been a higher priority than the others.

But legislators knew a similar bill was struck down two years ago. The judge said it now gave him “pause” in this case because he would be telling the Iowa Supreme Court it got that decision wrong.

Turner pointed out a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made early Monday was also regarding third-party representation — this one allowing medical providers to assert rights on behalf of patients.

“Doesn’t that answer the question?” he asked.

Ogden said this petition is a state court claim, and a state court hasn’t made a ruling on third party standing.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill Monday afternoon. It will become law Wednesday unless Turner grants the emergency injunction.

He said he would make a ruling on an injunction soon.


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