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Iowa Lawmakers Pass 24-Hour Abortion Waiting Period Overnight

abortion rights supporters
John Pemble / IPR file
Abortion rights supporters and opponents gather at the Iowa Capitol in February.

Iowa’s Republican-led legislature passed a bill mandating a 24-hour abortion waiting period on Saturday night and early Sunday morning, just a few hours after first introducing the proposal and as the House GOP failed to get enough support to pass an abortion-related constitutional amendment.

Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, was one of the House Republicans who sponsored the proposed waiting period.

“Waiting periods help ensure that decisions are made not under duress and not under undue influences,” Salmon said. “It is hoped that after taking time to consider it, a woman would choose life over death.”

Democrats said the waiting period would put up barriers to abortion access for some Iowans.

“A 24-hour waiting period insinuates that a woman has not thought about this decision very carefully,” said Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City. “Women take their time, their own time, to make that decision. And this is an unfair burden to be placed upon someone.”

Twenty-seven states have abortion waiting periods ranging from 18 to 72 hours, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The House passed the bill 53-42, with one Democrat joining Republicans in voting yes, around 11 p.m. Saturday. The Senate passed the bill 31-16 before 6 a.m. Sunday with all Republicans voting in favor.

The bill goes to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature.

The Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a 72-hour waiting period as unconstitutional. In that opinion, the court said the Iowa Constitution protects a fundamental right to abortion, making it very unlikely that future abortion restrictions could survive a legal challenge.

Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists have since accused the Court of “judicial activism” in that case.

“This extreme action by our courts creates a law that deeply affects the lives of Iowans, and removes their voice from the discussion,” Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said Saturday night. “We look forward to the day where Iowans can have a seat at the table. And maybe this will provide an opportunity for the courts to rectify the terrible situation they’ve created here in our state.”

Anti-abortion groups have been pushing for lawmakers to start the process of amendingthe constitution to say it does not protect abortion rights.

Senate Republicans passed the constitutional amendment in February, but the House of Representatives has not voted on it. 

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, praised that Iowa Supreme Court opinion and quoted the late Chief Justice Mark Cady’s writing.

“He said, ‘Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty.”

The Iowa Supreme Court has changed significantly since 2018, with the appointment of four new justices by Reynolds.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter