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Planned Parenthood, ACLU File Lawsuit To Block Iowa Governor's Temporary Ban On Some Abortions

Grant Gerlock
IPR file
Gov. Kim Reynolds

The ACLU of Iowa, Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Gov. Kim Reynolds’ statement that the state’s temporary ban on non-essential medical procedures includes surgical abortion.

The groups are asking a judge to block enforcement of Reynolds’ order, saying it is effectively an unconstitutional ban on abortion after about 11 weeks of pregnancy.

Iowa law currently bans abortion after 20 weeks. In 2018, Reynolds signed a bill into law that would ban abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, but a Polk County district judge ruled it was unconstitutional.

Reynolds said at a Sunday news conference the temporary ban on abortion procedures is needed to preserve personal protective equipment to care for patients with COVID-19. Asked if the decision was based on personal beliefs, she said no.

“It’s the same thing that I’ve applied to everything,” Reynolds said. “Like for instance, I didn’t close down bars and restaurants to go after the hospitality sector. I did that because we felt that was an area where we would have potential spread.”

The plaintiffs say abortion cannot be indefinitely delayed without risking the health and safety of women. And this prohibition could result in some women being denied access to abortion altogether.

Reynolds’ proclamation is in effect through April 16, but she could extend it as the state continues to confirm more cases of the new coronavirus.

On a call with reporters Monday, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project Director Jennifer Dalven said carrying a pregnancy to term requires women to interact with the medical system, including going to a hospital to give birth.

“Stopping them from getting an abortion doesn’t lower the risk of transmitting the virus,” Dalven said. “It just forces people to stay pregnant and have children against their will.”

The lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court states abortion providers in Iowa were already taking steps to preserve equipment and limit non-essential services in response to the spread of COVID-19.

“Conservation of hospital beds, blood supply and personal protective equipment are vital to our preparedness to COVID-19,” said Dr. Abigail Drucker, a northwest Iowa OB-GYN surgeon, in an affidavit. “Surgical abortion care is an outpatient procedure that may be completed with minimal PPE usage and does not take away substantially from COVID-19 readiness.” 

Governor’s office spokesperson Pat Garrett said in a statement Reynolds suspended all elective surgeries and procedures to preserve health care resources.

“As the governor has said over and over, Iowans are in this together,” Garrett said. “We will be working in consultation with the attorney general’s office to defend the actions she’s taken.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter