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A year after the Dobbs decision, the future of abortion in Iowa is still unclear

 anti-abortion activists march to the iowa judicial branch building
Grant Gerlock
Anti-abortion activists march to the Iowa Judicial Branch building to mark the first anniversary of the end of Roe v. Wade.

Abortion is still legal in Iowa a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to terminate a pregnancy. But just like this time last year, it’s not clear how long that will last. An Iowa Supreme Court order this month left only one thing certain—Republican lawmakers will try again to restrict abortion.

Vanessa was trying to get away from an abusive partner earlier this year when she found out she was pregnant.

“Everybody kept saying, ‘Oh, you should just keep it.’ But then I was thinking of my future,” she said. “I thought of myself being, like, dirt poor and just struggling to raise this baby on my own. And I didn’t really want to do that.”

Vanessa said her ex-partner was stalking her and she didn’t know what he was capable of. She decided to get an abortion.

But abortion was banned in her state after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. With the help of a Planned Parenthood navigator, Vanessa came to Iowa.

“If I kept the baby, that meant I would have to go back to the abuser, and I would keep on being abused,” she said. “And he was also a drug addict. So I was trying to get away from that, all of it. The abortion was the best choice for me to start over clean.”

After that, she said Planned Parenthood helped her move and start over away from her abuser. IPR agreed to not use Vanessa’s real name or home state because she’s concerned for her safety.

Abortion rights supporters say abortion access for Iowans and people from other states, like Vanessa, is hanging by a thread as Republican lawmakers have promised to restrict abortion following a recent Iowa Supreme Court order.

The court deadlocked 3 to 3, permanently blocking a law that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The order kept abortion legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks.

Abortion rights activists celebrated at a park in Des Moines with a call and response chant:

“Abortion is health care! And health care is a human right!”

Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs in Iowa for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said the region has been decimated by state abortion bans.

“This case has been absolutely pivotal in the fight for abortion access throughout our region, as Iowa has served as a critical access point in the almost year since the Dobbs ruling that got rid of Roe v. Wade,” Stillwell said. “With this ruling, thousands of patients seeking care in Iowa can continue to receive the necessary, lifesaving care they deserve.”

Abortion rights activists gather in Des Moines following the Iowa Supreme Court decision to not reinstate a six-week abortion ban.
Madeleine Charis King
Abortion rights activists gather in Des Moines following the Iowa Supreme Court decision to not reinstate a six-week abortion ban.

Abortion providers report changes in year since Dobbs decision

Even as abortion has remained legal, Planned Parenthood officials say the nonprofit provided 13% fewer abortions in Iowa in the year since the Dobbs decision. They attributed that to staff shortages and the state’s 24-hour abortion waiting period that took effect last summer.

At the same time, the five-state Planned Parenthood region that includes Iowa provided 9% more abortions in the past year, as the number of patients coming from other states nearly doubled.

April Clark is a board member for the Iowa Abortion Access Fund, which helps Iowans pay for their abortions.

“Iowa is getting flooded with patients from other states, and then sometimes our patients are having to travel out of state in order to receive care as well, because our appointments are booked up in the state,” she said.

Planned Parenthood officials said the five-state region has also seen an 11% increase in second trimester abortions. Clark said travel time and the 24-hour waiting period can cause a delay.

“Instead of having everything done in one visit one day, they’re having to come back twice,” Clark said. “For some people, that means they’re not able to get the type of abortion that they wanted to get, because they would be too far along on their second visit.”

And just last week, Planned Parenthood announced it isclosing three of its nine Iowa clinics, but officials expect to serve more patients by consolidating staff and services.

Anti-abortion leaders call for special legislative session

Anti-abortion activists cheered the news of the clinic closures at a rally at the Iowa Capitol celebrating the anniversary of the Dobbs decision.

“We won’t stop until they’re all closed, right?” said Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Pulse Life Advocates.

She said she’s profoundly disappointed the Iowa Supreme Court kept abortion legal. She is asking the Republican-led legislature to hold a special session to ban abortion as soon as possible.

DeWitte said she would at least like to see lawmakers pass “fetal heartbeat” legislation that would ban abortions as early as six weeks after a woman’s last period. But she will keep advocating for a total abortion ban in Iowa.

“This is a life and death issue,” DeWitte said. “And we cannot wait any longer for restrictions against this barbaric practice to be put in place. The time to act is now.”

It’s not clear if Republican leaders will call a special session before the regular session starts in January. And it’s not clear what legislation they would pass.

Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader and a leading anti-abortion voice in Iowa, also said there should be a special session to ban abortion. He said the three justices who opposed reinstating the “fetal heartbeat” lawshould resign, be impeached by lawmakers, or be ousted by voters.

“I think, right now, we have a legislature and a governor who are ready to look at all options on the table to make sure that Iowa is a leader in the culture of life,” Vander Plaats said.

But any kind of abortion ban would very likely end up back at the Iowa Supreme Court. The Republican-appointed court would then have another chance to decide if abortion can be banned in Iowa.

In the meantime, abortion providers and activists say they will keep helping Iowans and people from other states as long as they can under state law.

IPR reporters Natalie Krebs and Grant Gerlock contributed to this story.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter