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A 24-hour abortion waiting period is now enforceable in Iowa

Sarah Boden/IPR File
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A 24-hour abortion waiting period is enforceable in Iowa as of Monday morning. The law requires people seeking an abortion to get two separate appointments at least 24 hours apart.

At the first appointment, providers have to get written certification from the patient that they got an ultrasound and were given the option to see the image, hear a description of the image, and hear the heartbeat. They also have to certify that the patient received certain information required by state law.

At the second appointment, the patient can get an abortion.

Providers started following this law about three weeks ago, when the Iowa Supreme Court issued its opinion that allowed the 2020 law to take effect.

Francine Thompson, executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, said the clinic still doesn’t have the “finer details” worked out for scheduling appointments under the waiting period law. But the clinic started planning a few years ago when a 72-hour waiting period almost went into effect.

“We were somewhat prepared to move a system pretty rapidly in place,” Thompson said. “But we’re certainly hearing fear and confusion from folks who are calling to schedule who just aren’t sure what the legal status of abortion is.”

Abortion is legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The June 2022 Iowa Supreme Court decision overturned a 2018 opinion that said Iowans have a fundamental right to seek an abortion under the Iowa Constitution.

Drake University Law Professor Sally Frank said the 2018 decision, which struck down the 72-hour waiting period, described challenges posed to women when they’re forced to make two clinic visits.

“So for people in Des Moines, it’s hard to imagine that it’s hard to get to the clinic because it’s right here,” Frank said. “But if you live in a rural area, and you have to drive two or three hours to get to a clinic, you’d have to get a full day off from work twice. You have to have your kids covered and babysat for, etc., twice. Maybe even have to spend overnight because it’s such a long trip.”

Frank said a lower court will now consider whether or not the 24-hour waiting period is constitutional.

The Iowa Supreme Court refused to rehear the case at the request of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. She wanted the Court to immediately adopt a standard of review that would allow for very strict abortion laws.

But the Iowa Supreme Court is asking the Johnson County District Court to consider what the standard of review should be for abortion restrictions in Iowa. Future court hearings were not scheduled in the online court records as of Friday afternoon.

Reynolds said she also plans to ask a Polk County District Court judge to reinstate a law that would ban most abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Frank said she thinks that law being reinstated is “quite unlikely,” partly because the new legal standard for abortion restrictions in Iowa hasn’t been decided.

“When you bar abortion, that, by definition, is an undue burden,” Frank said. “So if it’s still not decided whether or not an undue burden is the test, how is the court going to say a six-week ban is okay?”

Frank also said the state didn’t appeal the court’s ruling in 2019 that declared the “fetal heartbeat” law unconstitutional, which makes it less likely that the court would agree to reopen the case.

Reynolds said recently she would not call a special legislative session to restrict abortion while she waits for results from the courts.

Editor's Note: This post has been changed to reflect that the abortion waiting period became enforceable Monday morning. It previously stated the waiting period became enforceable Friday, as that is what IPR understood from correspondence with the attorney general's office. The attorney general's office later notified IPR that the law would become enforceable when a certain order was issued by the Iowa Supreme Court, which occurred Monday morning. Abortion providers had already implemented the waiting period a few weeks before it became enforceable.

Copyright 2022 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.