Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is spearheading efforts at the Des Moines statehouse to restrict abortion rights should the U.S. Supreme Court scale back on the protections offered to women from its Roe v. Wade decision.
Now seeking her second full term as the state's chief executive, Reynolds stated at a March 22 rally: "I won't rest until our laws and our society recognize that all people, no matter how small, are entitled to the right to life.”
The nation's highest court has taken up litigation stemming from a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That case, according to Reynolds represents "the best opportunity yet" to knock out legal protections for abortion.
Under a 2020 state law signed by Reynolds, women must wait at least 24 hours for an abortion following their initial visit to a provider. But enforcement of that law has been blocked as a result of a judicial decision siding with a challenge brought by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Reynolds administration is now asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn the permanent injunction issued in connection with the law requiring the 24-hour waiting period. The state is also asking the court to nullify a 2018 ruling that determined the Iowa state constitution provides women with a fundamental right to abortion.
A decision is expected by late June. "That ruling could potentially strip Iowans of their state right to a safe and legal abortion," Sheena Dooley, communications manager of Planned Parenthood in Iowa, said in a Zoom conference.
Abortion rights proponents fear that if the nation's highest court overturns Roe v. Wade, opponents of reproductive rights will redouble their efforts to pass a constitutional amendment that would specifically state there is no state right to abortions in Iowa.
The proposed amendment, approved by the Iowa legislature last year, must be approved again by the end of this year if it is to be put on the November 2024 ballot.
"If the Iowa Supreme Court overturns the state constitutional protection for safe and legal abortion, lawmakers who control the state government would have the unchecked authority to ban abortion, taking away women's reproductive freedom," said Jamie Burch Elliott, former director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa.
The proposed amendment states: "To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the state of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion."
Planned Parenthood says most Iowans are against the constitutional amendment, citing a March 2021 poll released by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom Iowa. It found less than a third of Iowans support the proposed amendment, with a majority of Catholics and Protestants signaling they are opposed to it.
Pro-choice activists aren't the only ones warily waiting for a decision from Iowa's top court on the 24-hour law.
Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Pulse Life Advocates in Des Moines, said she and other members of a statewide anti-abortion coalition are seeking to build support for the proposed amendment that would clarify there is no right in the Iowa constitution to abortion.
"We're working on passing the constitutional amendment because that's the best path to undo what these unelected judges did in 2018," DeWitte said. That is when the courts interpreted the Constitution to indicate abortion rights are protected in Iowa.
The 2018 decision came in response to litigation challenging a prohibition on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and requiring a 72-hour waiting period.
It was after the 72-hour waiting period was struck down that Reynolds approved the 24-hour waiting period law.
DeWitte said she and other abortion foes are "pretty hopeful" the Iowa Supreme Court will reverse the lower court ruling and allow the 24-hour rule to stand while reversing its earlier ruling finding the state constitution guarantees abortion rights. She noted the justices who will decide the case are appointees of Reynolds.
According to Elliott, against the backdrop of the state litigation, the federal abortion protections "hang by a thread," raising the significance of the legal fight over efforts by Republicans in Iowa to restrict abortion.
"The Iowa Supreme Court's decision could have implications for generations to come by paving the way for politicians to take away the fundamental right of the people they represent to make private health care decisions between them and their doctor," Elliott said.