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Two years after the Dobbs ruling, Iowa’s abortion law remains in limbo
Two years after the Dobbs ruling, Iowa’s abortion law remains in limbo

Protesters fill the rotunda of the Iowa State Capitol as the Iowa Legislature convenes for a special session to pass a ban on abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy due to the

Protesters fill the rotunda of the Iowa Capitol last July as the Iowa Legislature convenes for a special session to pass a ban on abortion based on the “fetal heartbeat.” (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Des Moines Register via AP)

Legally, not much has changed in Iowa since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal law in its landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, but proposals to further restrict abortion access and an upcoming decision by the state Supreme Court could change that, activists said Monday.

Monday marked the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs ruling that upended federal abortion law. It overturned a 50-year-old right to abortion granted under Roe v. Wade and gave states broad powers to restrict the procedure. While abortion rights advocates expressed concerns, abortion opponents praised the ruling and the new restrictions on abortion it has brought.

Since the Dobbs ruling, 21 states have banned the procedure before fetal viability, the standard established in Roe. Other states, including Iowa, are engaged in lengthy court battles over proposed restrictions. Several Democratic-led states have enacted new abortion access protections.

In Iowa, abortions are still legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on Friday on a challenge to a 2023 law that bans abortions once a fetus has heart activity, which can be as early as six weeks, but often not until eight to 10 weeks.

The law provides exceptions for rape and incest, provided the cases are reported within a deadline, as well as for medical abnormalities and emergencies.

The Republican-led legislature passed the law in a special session in 2023 after the Iowa Supreme Court refused to reinstate a nearly identical 2018 law in the wake of the Dobbs ruling.

“Opponents of reproductive freedom in the Iowa House and Senate, as well as the governor, have made it a priority to control women in as many ways as possible,” Democratic House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said Monday during a press conference with Planned Parenthood North Central States.

In addition to the “fetal heartbeat” ban, Republicans in Iowa have passed legislation requiring a 24-hour waiting period and an ultrasound before an abortion can be performed. Republicans have also passed legislation to fund anti-abortion pregnancy crisis centers that provide resources and counseling to pregnant women.

Konfrst echoed the gynecologists’ arguments during the special session and in court, saying that Iowa’s already overburdened maternal health care system would be further weakened if the abortion ban goes into effect.

Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in the North Central States, said her work in abortion and reproductive care hasn’t changed much in the past two years, but the patchwork of laws in the Midwest sometimes complicates access to care.

Traxler said she is seeing more patients having to travel longer distances to have an abortion as states like South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska have implemented new restrictions.

“I notice when we’re providing care and our care needs to change on a dime, when we suddenly need to plan something different,” she said. “The days when I really start to understand … are the politicians in my exam room and I’m being told I’m not allowed to do certain things because they told me I’m not allowed to do certain things.”

About 10 percent of Iowa abortion patients traveled from out of state in 2023, a decrease from 2020, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute. Most of those visits, about 270 people, came from Nebraska, where abortions are illegal after 12 weeks.

Abortion opponents praise Dobbs decision

During a right-to-life rally Saturday at the Iowa Capitol, Republicans praised the ruling that made Iowa’s law possible. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds was not present, but prepared remarks were read on her behalf.

“Six years later, after so-called abortion rights were repealed at both the state and federal levels, the stage is set for Iowa to once again lead the fight for life, and that is exactly what we set out to do,” Reynolds said in the submitted comments.

Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa said on social media Monday that the Dobbs decision had saved “countless lives.”

“I will continue to work to foster a culture of life in our country by expanding access to maternity care, ensuring women have the resources they need throughout their pregnancy, and helping young families succeed,” Hinson said.

Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said on social media on Monday that Republicans would continue to fight against abortion and support women and families. The Dobbs decision, she said, “reflects the scientific evidence, protects the unborn and returns political decision-making power to the American people.”

Erin Murphy of the Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.

By Liam