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Iowa Supreme Court hears abortion rights case

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit brought by a former public health department employee against the governor and other state officials.
Madeleine C King
The Iowa Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that could have a huge impact on abortion rights in the state.

This week, the Iowa Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that could have a huge impact on abortion rights in the state.

Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed her 1,500-page government reorganization bill into law.

Here's a look at what's coming up in the 2023 legislative session.

Iowa abortion rights at stake

The future of abortion rights in the state will be left up to the Iowa Supreme Court on Tuesday. The case will determine whether the state can enforce a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

Iowans can currently get an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The state supreme court case could also determine whether lawmakers can go even further in banning abortion. It’s highly unlikely the case will be resolved this week, but the court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.

The case's journey to the Iowa Supreme Court began nearly five years ago, whenReynolds signed a six-week abortion ban into law. At the time, it was the strictest abortion law in the country. A judge immediately blocked it from taking effect, so it was never enforced.

Around the same time, the Iowa Supreme Court had ruled that Iowans have a fundamental right to seek an abortion. Roe v. Wade was still protecting abortion rights nationwide, so Reynolds never appealed the ruling, as her effort likely would have failed.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Around the same time, the Iowa Supreme Court — now largely made up of justices appointed by Reynolds — ruled that Iowans don’t have a fundamental right to abortion. In response, Reynolds decided to go back to the courts to try to get the six-week abortion ban reinstated.

Moving ahead: Reynolds' government organization bill

Reynolds says her office has been working on her 1,500-page government reorganization plan since last summer, and her goal is to have state agencies merged, rearranged and operating under the new plan by July 1.

The new law gives Iowa 16 cabinet-level agencies instead of the current 37. Reynolds says there might be some bumps, and is prepared to slow the process down if needed.

Questions remain about Reynolds' plan, including about the significant gap between the governor’s projection of how much money the plan will save versus the estimate from nonpartisan analysts. It's unclear from a Legislative Services Agency analysis if the plan will truly bring zero layoffs, like the governor says. Reynolds says she stands by her previous statements and says it’s a win if the new law improves services for Iowans.

A priority education bill moves ahead — with many changes

Another one of Reynolds' priorities moved forward last week, but not without adjustments. The bill deals with defining age-appropriate books in schools and bans instruction related to LGBTQ topics in grades K - 6.

The Senate initially amended Reynolds’ proposal and passed it on to the House. Then, last week, the House made several more amendments before sending it back to the Senate.

Reynolds did not say if she supports the changes to the bill. She said she supports what she proposed and is watching the bill as it moves through the process. It’s unclear now exactly how that bill will end up.

An unusual budget bill

The Senate budgeting committee advanced budget bills last week — without any numbers in them.

Typically, budget bills say exactly how many taxpayer dollars would go to each state agency and program. Over in the House, Republicans are still working on their budget bills that they say will have numbers in them.

Overall, House and Senate Republicans don't appear any closer to reaching a budget agreement.

Meanwhile, House Democrats released a plan aimed at lowering costs for Iowans, which includes expanding child care assistance and tax credits, freezing public university tuition and creating affordable housing programs.

They say they hope Republicans will work with them on adding some of that to the budget bills, but it’s very unlikely that the minority party can get much done on their priorities.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter
Josie Fischels is a Digital News producer at Iowa Public Radio. She is a 2022 graduate of the University of Iowa’s school of journalism where she also majored in theater arts (and, arguably, minored in the student newspaper, The Daily Iowan). Previously, she interned with the Denver Post in Denver, Colorado, and NPR in Washington, D.C.
Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.