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Abortion remains legal, but the future of abortion rights in Iowa is uncertain

abortion rights supporters
Katarina Sostaric
IPR file
U.S. Supreme Court and Iowa Supreme Court decisions expected by June 30 could undermine abortion rights in Iowa.

The future of abortion rights in Iowa remained unclear Tuesday after Politico reported on a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that showed a majority of justices appear ready to overturn Roe v. Wade.

For now, abortion is still legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

“If you have an appointment today, this week, until the decision comes out, come to our health center for your appointment,” said Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood North Central States. “We are going to see you until we absolutely cannot because abortion is safe, and it’s still legal everywhere.”

That could change in the next two months as opinions on abortion rights are expected from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court by June 30.

If the draft opinion holds and Roe v. Wade is overturned at the federal level, lawmakers across the country would get to decide the legality of abortion in their states.

An Iowa Supreme Court decision from 2018 that found the Iowa Constitution protects abortion rights would still stand in the way of Republican lawmakers hoping to further restrict abortion in Iowa. However, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP lawmakers are asking the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn that decision, too.

Anti-abortion rights groups are also pushing for a constitutional amendment to invalidate the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 decision. That measure could be on the ballot in 2024 if it gets approved for a second time by the legislature.

“And so those are two avenues that we will be working on here in Iowa to be able to move forward with common sense restrictions and regulations for abortion in our state for the safety and wellbeing of its citizens,” said Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Pulse Life Advocates.

If both opinions are overturned, the Republican-led Iowa Legislature would be able to pass more abortion restrictions and potentially revive laws that were struck down by courts, including one that would ban abortions starting as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Several Republican-led states have passed “trigger laws” that would outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Iowa does not have a “trigger law.”

Reynolds and top GOP leaders in the legislature havepreviously said they were waiting to see the court opinions before proposing new abortion restrictions.

Reynolds’ office issued a statement Tuesday.

“As we await the Supreme Court’s final ruling, our mission remains as clear as it has ever been,” Reynolds said. “We are fighting to defend the most important freedom there is: the right to life.”

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, also released a statement.

“Uncertainty remains about the final decision regarding abortion by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court,” he said. “Despite the questions surrounding those decisions, Iowans can be certain Senate Republicans have, and will continue to lead on life.”

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she is angry, scared, and “ready to fight back.”

“Everyone deserves the right to make their own health care decisions, especially when it comes to reproductive health care,” Konfrst said. “These decisions do not belong in the hands of politicians.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said abortion rights are in “grave danger” if Roe is overturned.

“Gov. Reynolds and Republican politicians are hellbent on removing the freedom to choose from Iowa’s constitution,” he said.

The Iowa Democratic Party is calling on the U.S. Congress to pass a law protecting abortion rights nationwide.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter