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Here's how a potential Roe v. Wade reversal could affect Iowa's abortion laws

John Pemble
IPR file
The Iowa Legislature has passed several abortion restrictions in recent years, but most have been blocked by courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case that could lead to a reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which would open the door to more abortion restrictions across the country.

If that happens, Iowa’s strong legal protections for abortion rights would still make it difficult for lawmakers to restrict abortion in the state. But abortion rights opponents are trying to get rid of those state-level protections, too.

Maggie DeWitte is executive director of Iowans For Life, a group that seeks to restrict abortion.

“We’re very optimistic that for the first time since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, that we have the opportunity to overturn this bad law,” DeWitte said. “And in doing that, we’ll provide Iowans the opportunity to safeguard Iowa families, Iowa women, by being able to effectively restrict abortion within the state.”

In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court declared the right to seek an abortion is protected as a fundamental right.

For a Roe v. Wade reversal to affect Iowa, there would have to be a new Iowa Supreme Court decision, or voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment.

“If that happens, it really gives lawmakers pretty much unchecked access to regulate and restrict abortion,” said Sheena Dooley, communications manager for Planned Parenthood North Central States. “And they’ve made it clear in Iowa that the intention is to ban abortion.”

Dooley said that would especially affect people with lower incomes who can’t afford to travel to other states to get an abortion, and would exacerbate health inequities.

The Republican majority in the Iowa Legislaturepassed a law in 2018 that banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected. That can be as early as 6 weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

The law was struck down by a courtbased on the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling.

After that, abortion rights opponents launched an effort to undermine that ruling by amending the Iowa Constitution to say it doesn’t protect abortion rights. Republican state lawmakers approved language for that amendment in May. If they approve the language again in 2023 or 2024, Iowans will get a chance to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment. Polling by the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll has showed the amendment is not very popular among Iowans, but DeWitte said her polling had different results.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Supreme Court is expected to hear a case about a 24-hour abortion waiting period in the next few months.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and dozens of Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are asking the Iowa Supreme Court to take that as an opportunity to reverse the 2018 ruling that held abortion rights are protected in the state.

Reynolds has appointed four new justices to the Iowa Supreme Court since the 2018 ruling, replacing four of the five justices who joined the majority opinion protecting abortion rights.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter