The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday struck down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion, ruling that the restriction was unconstitutional and that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.”
Justices noted that the waiting period could force delays, increase costs and in some cases prevent a woman from legally obtaining an abortion. The court’s 5-2 decision said the mandatory delay violated the Iowa Constitution because the restrictions on women weren’t “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state.”
“At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty,” the justices wrote.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Iowa and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which sued the state shortly after the law was approved last year. The groups argued that a woman’s right to an abortion was among the core privacy rights protected by the Iowa Constitution and federal law.
Rita Bettis Austen, attorney for the ACLU of Iowa said it’s the most important constitutional rights case in Iowa since the ruling that legalized gay marriage in 2009.
“It recognizes that women have equal footing to men under our laws. It holds that women have a fundamental right to a safe and legal abortion which cannot be legislated away,” she said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that women are often in crisis when facing an abortion decision which can impact them for the rest of their lives.
“I don’t think it is unreasonable to require 72 hours for someone to weigh their options and the important decision they are about to make,” she said.
The Iowa attorney general’s office, which defended the law before the court, declined to comment.
The waiting period is part of a larger state law that bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The 20-week ban is in effect and isn’t part of the legal challenge.
In its Friday ruling, the high court noted it wasn’t concluding that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy was unlimited. The ruling, written by Chief Justice Mark Cady, outlined the difficulty courts have in reaching decisions on abortion.
“We do not, and could not, endeavor to discern the precise moment when a human being comes into existence. We have great respect for the sincerity of those with deeply held beliefs on either side of the issue.
“Nevertheless, the state’s capacity to legislate pursuant to its own moral scruples is necessarily curbed by the constitution. The state may pick a side, but in doing so, it may not trespass upon the fundamental rights of the people,” Cady wrote.
Two justices, Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman, disagreed. Mansfield’s dissenting opinion argued that the court’s majority opinion forgoes “accepted methods of constitutional interpretation,” and instead at times relies “on an undertone of moral criticism toward abortion opponents.”
Mansfield is on President Donald Trump’s list of possible nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ilyse Hogue, president of the national abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the Friday ruling upholds precedent, the rights of Iowa women and their “dignity and respect.” She said those issues should be considered by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when advancing any U.S. Supreme Court nominee chosen by President Donald Trump to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Chuck Hurley, an attorney for the Christian conservative group The Family Leader said the ruling makes it even more important to get the fetal heartbeat law passed by Iowa lawmakers earlier this year before the U.S. Supreme Court. It bans abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.
Hurley and others believe it’s their best chance at reversing Roe v. Wade but the legal challenges are based on the Iowa Constitution and most likely will go again to the Iowa Supreme Court rather than the federal court.
“Americans know that when a baby’s heart is beating, she’s alive, but our state judges aren’t willing to protect her life,” Hurley said. “That’s why we need the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case.”