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Iowa’s new, ultra-restrictive abortion ban has been temporarily blocked in court

If upheld, the ban could put further pressure on abortion providers in the Midwest.

In front of the Supreme Court building’s white marble columns and steps, a crowd of people hold signs. The center of the photo shows a brown cardboard sign held above a marcher’s head that reads “My body my choice.”
Abortion rights activists march to the US Supreme Court on June 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. 
Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Iowa’s new ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant, has been temporarily blocked in court.

An Iowa judge ruled Monday that the state must preserve the previous status quo consistent with the current Iowa Supreme Court precedent. The state’s highest court previously struck down a practically identical version of the ban passed in 2018. The ruling only puts the law on hold until a final decision in the case is made, but for now, Iowans can once again access abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the law on Friday, briefly bringing to a halt most abortions in the state. The ban has exceptions for cases where the life or health of the pregnant person is in danger and for survivors of rape and incest, miscarriages, and certain fetal diagnoses.

Abortion providers challenged the ban in state court on the basis that it violates Iowans’ constitutional rights to abortion and substantive due process, as well as the state constitution’s inalienable rights clause, which they argue guarantees those rights to women specifically and grants them equal protection under the law.

Before Reynolds signed the bill, Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement that the ban places an “unacceptable burden on patients’ ability to access essential abortion care, especially those who already face systemic inequities. Hundreds of Iowans will be impacted in mere weeks,”

In response to the Iowa Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold a permanent block on the 2018 ban, Reynolds called a special session last week with the singular purpose of passing the new law, which she maintains is reflective of Iowans’ values.

“Iowans have elected representatives willing to stand up for the rights of the unborn and, in doing so, they have voted strongly in support of pro-life principles and against the arbitrary destruction of innocent, defenseless lives,” Reynolds said in a statement announcing the special session.

However, polling suggests that Iowans feel differently. A Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa poll conducted earlier this year found that 61 percent of Iowa adults supported legal abortion in all or most cases, and only 35 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Still, openly anti-abortion Republicans continue to win elections in Iowa, which has taken a hard-right turn in recent election cycles. And Republican lawmakers are taking that as a carte blanche to advance their ultra-conservative agenda, including an abortion ban among the most restrictive in the country.

What the ban means for Iowans — and the region

The exceptions to the ban are limited, and Republican lawmakers rejected amendments proposed by Democrats that would have expanded them. The organizations challenging the law, including Planned Parenthood North Central States, the Emma Goldman Clinic, and the ACLU of Iowa, said in a joint statement that people who do meet the criteria for an exception would face “barriers to care” and that “the reality is that abortion will be largely unavailable for most vulnerable Iowans that might try to rely upon these exceptions.”

We’ve already seen massive reductions in care in other states that have enacted abortion bans. In Texas, for example, doctors are put in the position of having to determine whether the life or health of the pregnant person is endangered. That’s led to delays in performing abortions, putting patients at further risk for complications.

If Iowans can’t access abortion in-state, only those with the necessary financial resources may be able to do so elsewhere, and even then, they could face hurdles. Abortion access in the Midwest has severely contracted since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Now, Wisconsin, Missouri, and the Dakotas have implemented bans on almost all abortions. Indiana will also implement its own ban starting in August.

If the Iowa ban is upheld in court, other states in the region will likely be under further pressure to provide abortions to out-of-state patients. That includes Michigan, where voters resoundingly approved a ballot measure last fall to codify abortion rights in the state constitution.

The state has already seen a significant increase in out-of-state patients in the last year, with Michigan doctors performing 2,761 abortions on such patients in 2022 compared to 1,665 in 2021, according to state data obtained by Bridge Michigan. Planned Parenthood, which operates 14 clinics in the state, has seen its out-of-state patient load nearly triple since the end of Roe.

The question is whether they can continue to expand their capacity to meet increasing demand from out-of-state patients. Many blue states have increased government funding for family planning service providers like Planned Parenthood, and the organization itself is redirecting resources toward clinics that are seeing higher demand, but staffing shortages and rising costs remain a concern.

Update, July 18, 10:25 am ET: This story was originally published July 12 and has been updated multiple times, most recently with news that an Iowa court has put the new abortion ban on pause.

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