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Iowa Supreme Court Hears Arguments in 72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period Lawsuit

alice clapman
Michael Zamora
The Des Moines Register
Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman speaks at the Iowa Supreme Court Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit over a state-mandated, three-day waiting period for women seeking abortions.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Board of Medicine over the waiting period, which was part of a 2017 effort by Republican lawmakers to put restrictions on abortions in Iowa. The petitioners argue the waiting period violates women’s due process and equal protection rights under the Iowa Constitution.

Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman said the law puts an “undue burden” on women and could cause significant harm.

“The evidence demonstrates that women take the time that they need to make these decisions, and it’s completely unnecessary for the state to impose a mandatory delay on women,” Clapman said. “And it’s burdensome especially when the state requires an extra trip.”

She said forcing women to visit a clinic twice is medically unnecessary and would likely prevent some women from obtaining an abortion altogether.

Under the law, a woman seeking an abortion would first have to get an ultrasound and receive information about alternatives to abortion. Then she would have to wait 72 hours before obtaining an abortion. Clapman says this is a big problem for women in rural areas, low-income women and victims of domestic violence.

“The act would cause extensive delays…here the record shows those can go on for three weeks or longer…increased medical risk, loss of the medication abortion option…loss of privacy, increased costs, financial strain and extreme stress for many women,” Clapman said.

A District Court judge upheld the waiting period in a ruling last September. In October, the Supreme Court put the law on hold while it considers the case.

“This is a waiting period,” said Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, who was representing the state. “It doesn’t say you don’t get to decide. It doesn’t say somebody else gets to decide. So on its face, this statute doesn’t infringe upon the right [to obtain an abortion].”

Chief Justice Mark Cady said there is evidence a 72-hour delay can cause a burden. He asked Thompson whether the waiting period achieves the state’s objective.

Thompson said he thinks it might, but he doesn’t think the state has to prove that it does.

“Where’s the evidence that more women are going to decline to follow through with an abortion as a decision, through the decision-making process, by waiting 72 hours?” Cady asked.

Thompson pointed to a study on a waiting period in Utah, which he seemed to interpret differently than Cady and Clapman. Thompson said he disagrees with Cady that the “whole point is delay.”

“The point of the statute is to provide time—which everybody agreed is a good thing—to make an important decision and to make sure certain information is exchanged,” Thompson said.

“But there’s no evidence that the women change their mind because they had 72 hours to think about it.” Cady replied.

“Yeah, I think there is,” Thompson said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah already have 72-hour waiting periods in place. A 72-hour waiting period enacted in Louisiana is currently on pause due to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

It could be weeks before a decision is reached in Iowa.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter