Justices keep abortion waiting period on hold

DES MOINES ? Enforcement of a new Iowa law requiring a three-day waiting period for an abortion will remain on hold, the state Supreme Court has decided.

Justices this week granted a motion to extend a previous temporary injunction until they can consider an appeal of a Polk County judge?s decision to uphold the law approved during the 2017 legislative session and signed last May by then-Gov. Terry Branstad.

The ACLU of Iowa and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit contending that provisions in the law are unconstitutional violations of women's equal protection and rights to legal abortion.

Senate File 471 ? which went into effect briefly earlier this summer before the Iowa Supreme Court intervened ? requires a woman to wait three days to undergo a surgical or medication abortion. 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 ? provisions opponents say requires patients to make two separate medical visits.

Other restrictions included in SF 471 also ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But that provision is not part of this court challenge.

District Judge Jeffrey Farrell issued a ruling last month upholding the law and ordering it to go into effect after 30 days. However, Iowa Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel signed a stay order Monday temporarily enjoining the law from taking effect until the high court can consider an appeal.

?Iowa women, whose right to safe, legal abortion has been accepted law for nearly 45 years, should continue to have the protection that has been guaranteed under the Iowa Constitution,? said Rita Bettis, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. She said the court?s stay order ?was essential to protect the rights of Iowa women as the appeal is heard by the court.?

Attorneys challenging the new law argued pregnant women in Iowa could face medically unnecessary delays, higher costs, social stigmas and other obstacles if the statute were to take effect. Low-income and rural women would be impacted at higher rates, they argued.

Attorneys representing the state called those contentions speculative, while arguing that regulators have a legitimate interest in overseeing the medical profession in promoting public safety and protecting life.

Farrell, whose order included a 30-day stay, acknowledged that the law could negatively affect low-income women and is likely to change few minds about undergoing an abortion. 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."

Twenty-seven other states already have enacted abortion waiting periods, according to information from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health care policy and research organization.