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Iowa Supreme Court says abortion not protected by state constitution

The decision clears the way for Iowa lawmakers to severely limit or ban abortion in the state.
August Mulvihill, of Norwalk, Iowa, center, holds a sign during a rally to protest recent abortion bans, on May 21, 2019, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.
August Mulvihill, of Norwalk, Iowa, center, holds a sign during a rally to protest recent abortion bans, on May 21, 2019, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP file
/ Source: Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday cleared the way for lawmakers to severely limit or even ban abortion in the state, reversing a decision by the court just four years ago that guaranteed the right to the procedure under the Iowa Constitution.

The court, now composed almost entirely of Republican appointees, concluded that a less conservative court wrongly decided that abortion is among the fundamental privacy rights guaranteed by the Iowa Constitution and federal law.

Friday’s ruling comes amid expectations that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Then Iowa lawmakers could ban abortion in the state without completing the lengthy process of amending the state constitution.

The Iowa decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by abortion providers who challenged a 2020 law that required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion. A judge who struck down the law cited the state high court’s 2018 ruling. The judge also concluded the law violated rules prohibiting passage of bills with more than one subject.

The state Supreme Court returned the waiting period case to district court.

In its 2018 ruling, decided by a 5-2 vote, the court said that “autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free.”

The reversal of a decision after just four years reflects a dramatic change in the court’s makeup. Gov. Kim Reynolds has named four justices since 2017, so six of the seven people on the court have been appointed by Republican governors.

Reynolds, an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, and Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly said they hoped the court would overturn the 2018 ruling. With that in mind, Reynolds and GOP lawmakers gave the governor more control over the panel that chooses which lawyers and judges are nominated for court positions.