What happens in Iowa if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Abortion would still be protected — at least for now.
Editor's note: The Iowa Supreme Court ruled June 17 that abortion is not protected by the state constitution. On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. Those decisions mean parts of this story are outdated. Here's an updated story: Abortion still legal in Iowa after SCOTUS ruling, but limits expected
Iowans' access to abortion would not immediately change if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which established abortion as a constitutional right.
A leaked draft of the Supreme Court's opinion in a high-profile abortion case out of Mississippi shows a majority of the court appears ready to strike down Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, another landmark abortion decision. The court on Tuesday confirmed the draft was authentic but noted it was not final,
If the two decisions are overturned, people seeking abortions in Iowa are protected by a separate decision from the Iowa Supreme Court that provides an even stronger safeguard for abortion than Roe.
But the Iowa high court is hearing a case that could revisit that 2018 decision this year, which may give Republican majorities in the Iowa Legislature more leeway to pass laws restricting abortion.
Republican lawmakers are also working to pass an amendment to the Iowa Constitution overturning that state court decision — a process that will take at least until 2024. Absent any new decision by the state Supreme Court, Iowa Republican lawmakers have said they're limited in what they can do to restrict abortion.
Here's what you need to know:
Will anything happen immediately in Iowa if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
No. Unlike more than a dozen states, Iowa does not have a "trigger" law that would ban legal abortion immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
The state's current laws governing abortion would remain in effect.
What is the current Iowa abortion law?
Iowa currently bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature has passed additional restrictions on abortions in recent years, but some have been struck down by the court or currently face legal challenges.
The restrictions that have been rejected in Iowa court include a 72-hour waiting period to receive an abortion and a so-called fetal heartbeat law, which would have banned most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy.
Iowa lawmakers passed a 24-hour abortion waiting period in 2020. That law is currently blocked from being enforced pending the outcome of a court challenge.
A 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision protects abortion rights. Republicans are trying to overturn it.
In the 2018 decision striking down Iowa's 72-hour abortion waiting period, the Iowa Supreme Court found abortion is protected as a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.
Since that was a decision by a state court about a state law, it will remain in effect even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Iowa Republicans have criticized that decision for years as "judicial overreach." Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have begun the process of passing a state constitutional amendment that would say the Iowa Constitution "does not recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion."
If the amendment were added to the Iowa Constitution, it would overturn the state Supreme Court ruling and allow lawmakers to pass much stronger restrictions on abortion. That could include a complete ban on the procedure if Roe is overturned at the federal level.
But the constitutional amendment process takes years in Iowa, and the measure likely won't appear on voters' ballots for an up or down vote until 2024. If approved by a majority of Iowans, the language would then be added to the state's constitution.
There's also another potential avenue to overturning that state Supreme Court decision. The Iowa Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to the state's 24-hour abortion waiting period law. Republican lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds have asked the court to use that case to overturn the 2018 decision protecting abortion. A decision is expected by the end of June.
Abortion opponents are hopeful about that decision because Reynolds, a Republican, has appointed four of the Iowa Supreme Court's seven justices in the years since the 2018 decision. In all, six of the court's justices were appointed by Republicans. One was appointed by a Democrat.
Could Iowa lawmakers pass more restrictions on abortion this year?
The Iowa Legislature is still in session, and Republican lawmakers could act to pass further laws limiting abortion, although they have not indicated whether they will do so.
Republican legislative leaders have said they are wary of acting before knowing the outcome of both the U.S. Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe and the Iowa Supreme Court decision in the 24-hour waiting period case.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in April that Iowa is in a different position than most states because of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling.
"The federal ruling matters, but so does the Iowa State Supreme court ruling," he said April 7. "So, I think a lot of the pro-life community in Iowa is watching anxiously at what happens at the federal level, but we also know we have a case at the state level that restricts what we do. And so you kind of have to address both of those things."
Whitver said that he didn't know if the Legislature would pass further laws on abortion this year since the Iowa Supreme Court decision is pending.
"I don’t know when that Supreme Court case is going to come out. It’s probably going to be after session," he said. "Those types of things usually spur movement."
Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, issued similar statements Tuesday, saying they "remain committed to protecting the unborn and advancing pro-life policies."
House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said Democrats will continue fighting "to ensure every family in Iowa has access to safe, legal abortions."
"I am angry. I am scared. And I’m ready to fight back," she said in a statement Tuesday. "Everyone deserves the right to make their own health care decisions, especially when it comes to reproductive health care. These decisions do not belong in the hands of politicians."
Iowa could see more abortion patients from out of state
If Roe v. Wade is struck down, more patients may come to Iowa to receive abortions.
Planned Parenthood North Central States is expecting an increase in the need for services in states where abortion would remain legal if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, officials at the abortion provider said. Without Roe, abortion would be outlawed in states such as South Dakota and North Dakota but remain legal in states such as Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.
"We have been preparing preemptively for this decision for a long time," said Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States. "We know that there are certain places in the country where we need to shore up access and make sure that we have space available for patients coming from all over."
After years of decline, abortions in Iowa rose by 25% in 2019 and another 14% in 2020, state data shows. Statistics for 2021 are not yet available.
Most Iowans believe abortion should remain legal
A majority of Iowans said in a September 2021 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
Fifty-seven percent of Iowans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 38% said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and 5% weren't sure.
Breaking down those results further, 20% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in all cases, while 36% said it should be legal in most cases. Meanwhile, 25% said abortion should be illegal in most cases and 13% said it should be illegal in all cases.
A March 2021 Iowa Poll found fewer than one third of Iowans supported the Legislature's push to amend the Iowa Constitution to say it does not recognize a right to abortion. That poll found 31% in support of the amendment, 58% opposed and 11% not sure.
Des Moines Register reporter Ian Richardson contributed to this article.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.