The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments on state abortion ban Thursday

Justices seem to be heading toward a possible deadlock, with Justice Dana Oxley likely being the deciding vote. Justices are expected to issue a decision before June 30.
Jerod Ringwald
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen delivers a speech during the 2023 State of the Judiciary at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. Christensen addressed a lack of court reporters during her speech. “For the past few years, the judicial branch has become increasingly concerned about the growing imbalance between the number of court reporters retiring and the even fewer number of people becoming interested in the profession,” Christensen said.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday on whether the state’s six-week abortion ban should go into effect after a Polk County Judge temporarily blocked the law from being enacted.

The court heard arguments Thursday on the constitutionality of an abortion ban in the state.

State Solicitor General Eric Wessan argued the court should hold the ban to a “rational basis,” meaning the court should find if the state had a legitimate interest in limiting abortions.

While Peter Im, the staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the court should find the ban should be reviewed with an intermediate standard of review that Im referred to as an “undue burden” review.

In 2022, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the state’s constitution did not protect abortion rights overturning their ruling in 2018, but didn’t go as far to reinstate the state’s six-week abortion ban.

In June 2023 justices were deadlocked 3-3 on whether or not to reinstate the state’s six-week abortion ban after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds pressured the justices to take up the case following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022.

Following their decision Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called a special session of the Iowa Legislature with the directive to enact a new six-week abortion ban in a one-day blitz to pass a new law. Several days later a Polk County judge enacted a temporary injunction on the law preventing it from being enacted.

Now the court must decide if they should let the injunction stay or remand the case to the district court for further litigation.

What attorneys argued

The court’s 2022 decision found that the due process clause of the Iowa Constitution could not be interpreted to protect abortion rights. In front of the court Thursday, Im argued that other parts of the state’s constitution protected abortion with an intermediate standard of constitutional review like undue burden.

“Autonomy and dominion over one’s own body that runs through the Iowa constitution,” Im said. “That is fundamental.”

Im said there is no common law doctrine requiring the courts to allow the legislature to “ride roughshod over the rights of Iowans” and that abortions have been legal in the state for the past 50 years.

“There is no doctrine that says that this Court should defer to the legislature if the legislature passes a law that rides roughshod over the right of Iowans to exercise bodily autonomy,” Im said. “Pre-viability abortion has been legal in Iowa for the last 50 years.”

Wessan argued that past precedent is clear on the test that justices should use to make their decision, if the right is not a fundamental right then justices should use a rational basis review of the law to determine constitutionality.

Wessan said the 2022 decision by the court made it clear to the justices that they cannot apply strict scrutiny to the law without overturning their 2022 precedent.

“A majority of this court held in Planned Parenthood 2022 that abortion is not a fundamental right subject to strict scrutiny,” Wessan said. “So under its long-standing substantive due process jurisprudence, this Court should apply rational basis.”

Wessan also said any other possible constitutional protections should be held to the rational basis review, because abortion rights are not “fundamental rights.”

“They’re seeking a carve out to treat abortion rights differently than other rights,” Wessan said. “Textually there is no basis.”

What did Justices say?

The Justices seemed split, similarly to their last case on abortion, with Justices Christopher McDonald, Matthew McDermott, and David May seeming skeptical of Im’s case. McDonald repeatedly probed Im to point to a case where the court has previously used an intermediate standard of review for a non-fundamental right.

While Chief Justice Susan Christensen, Justice Thomas Waterman, and Edward Mansfield seemed skeptical of Wessan’s case.

During oral arguments on Thursday, Christensen pressed Wessan on whether the exceptions in the law were enough to survive the rational basis review.

Oxley, who recused herself from the 2023 case and is now likely the deciding vote, seemed to want to know more about Im’s case and what evidence they would bring if the case were remanded for further proceedings.

Iowa Politicians reactions

Iowa politicians reacted to the hour-long oral arguments where the court heard from attorneys for planned parenthood and the state.

Iowa Republican Attorney General Brenna Bird said she is “confident that the law is on our side.”

“No right is more sacred than the right to life,” Bird said in a News Release. “Today, my office made our case in the Iowa Supreme Court to defend Iowa’s heartbeat law, which protects unborn life and prioritizes mothers’ health. The Iowa Legislature passed the heartbeat law, Governor Reynolds signed the law, and now, I’m defending it.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the Iowa Legislature back to the statehouse last summer to pass the ban before the court.

“Since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision of when to limit abortion has been given back to the states and the people,” Reynolds said in a news release Thursday. “For Iowa, the people’s elected representatives have drawn a clear line, multiple times, at when a heartbeat begins. Today, the unborn had their day at the Iowa Supreme Court. As a pro-Life Governor, I will do everything I can to protect the innocent unborn and promote strong, healthy families.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, said the law is unpopular and threatens Iowans’ rights to make their own health care decisions.

“The six-week abortion ban case heard today in Iowa’s highest court remains an unconstitutional attempt by Republican politicians to control the bodies of Iowans and their futures,” Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, said. “Iowans value their freedom, and that includes the freedom to make decisions about their bodies and their health care with their doctors. A majority of Iowans oppose attacks on their healthcare choices.”

The court must issue a decision in the case before June 30. Until then, abortions in the state remain legal.

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About the Contributors
Liam Halawith
Liam Halawith, Politics Editor
Liam Halawith is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Public Policy. Before his role as Politics Editor Liam was a politics reporter for the DI. Outside of the DI Liam has interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Southeast Iowa Union. This is his second year working for the DI.
Jerod Ringwald, Creative Director
Jerod Ringwald is the Creative Director at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. He was previously a managing editor this past summer as well as a former photo editor. During his sophomore year, he worked as a photojournalist covering news and sports.