Breaking down abortion in Iowa


The Republican-lead Iowa Legislature continues to push for anti-abortion legislation for the state.

Mackenzie Bodell, Senior Reporter

The Nov. 8 midterm elections could impact access to abortions in Iowa. While abortion is currently legal in the state, the legislature and Iowa Supreme Court could make changes in light of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade this summer. The overturning of the case allows individual states to make more decisions regarding abortion.

Abortion is currently legal in Iowa as long as the pregnancy term is under 21 weeks and six days. Over the summer the Iowa Supreme Court overturned state precedent recognizing a fundamental right to abortion, allowing laws that restrict access to abortions or ban abortions. 

It is legal for an individual to leave Iowa to receive an abortion in another state while other states will require a waiting period. 

Even though abortion currently remains legal, several restrictions and regulations regarding abortion were placed into effect. The following regulations regarding abortion are currently in place in Iowa, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights website and the office of the governor of Iowa website.

  • Iowa’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws now include reporting requirements.
  • An individual seeking an abortion must receive in-person biased state-directed counseling. 
  • Following this counseling, the patient must wait 24 hours before having the procedure. The 24-hour waiting period was enacted in 2020 but enjoined until the Iowa Supreme Court June 17 decision. 
  • If the individual seeking an abortion is a minor, the individual’s parent must be notified before the procedure. 
  • An individual seeking an abortion must undergo an ultrasound prior to the procedure. The provider is required to offer the option for the individual to see the image from the ultrasound. 
  • An abortion may be performed at 20 or more weeks postfertilization (22 weeks after the last menstrual period) only in cases of life or severely compromised physical health. 

Iowa follows the federal standard implemented in 1977 as of Oct. 1. The Hyde Amendment currently prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, according to Guttmacher Institution. The only other exception in Iowa is cases of fetal impairment. 

The current situation of abortion in Iowa is possibly subject to change by the upcoming legislative session.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, along with legislative leaders, announced two legal actions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 28, according to the Office of the Governor of Iowa website.

Reynolds requested the Iowa Courts lift the injunction against the enforcement of Iowa’s fetal heartbeat law. She also urged the Iowa Supreme Court to rehear Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds by the July 1 deadline, the Friday following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  

Fetal Heartbeat Law

Abortions were banned at six weeks-about the time when a fetal heartbeat could be detected in 2018. Reynolds advocated for this law to take effect. 

Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert blocked the fetal heartbeat law, prohibiting Iowa officials from enforcing it in January 2019, according to the Office of the Governor of Iowa website

“Regardless of precisely when a fetal heartbeat may be detected in a given pregnancy, it is undisputed that such cardiac activity is detectable well in advance of the fetus becoming viable,” Huppert said, according to the Courthouse News Service website.

He defended this upon the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds, where the court created a fundamental right to abortion. 

“There is not a fetal heartbeat until about 17 weeks,” said Veronica Fowler, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa (ACLU). “That law is very strategically and incorrectly named. It bans most abortions at around six weeks, which is before many people know that they’re even pregnant; thus, we call it the six-week abortion ban.”

When the Iowa Supreme Court established that the Iowa Constitution protected abortion in 2018, there was federal protection under Roe v. Wade. This created dual protection between state and federal law. 

Under this decision, laws the legislature attempts to pass regarding the protection of an unborn child in Iowa would be unconstitutional. 

The heartbeat bill law was permanently blocked by a court injunction in 2019 and has never gone into effect.

The Iowa Supreme Court overruled that 2018 abortion protection decision on June 17. As a result, Reynolds asked the district court to lift the injunction on the heartbeat law. 

“The Republican base is sort of steadfastly opposed to abortion for the better part of four years, and what she is proposing — it’s certainly consistent with that part of Republican Party ideology,” said Karen Kedrowski, professor and the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State.

Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds (known as PPH IV)

A week before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed its 2018 decision on Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds (PPH IV). 

When the Iowa Supreme Court released its decision on June 17 in PPH IV, the U.S. Supreme Court had not issued its opinion on Dobbs. 

The U.S. Supreme Court provided those insights in Dobbs on June 24, overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing states to make their own decisions regarding abortion laws. 

Iowa Constitution

Currently, the Iowa Constitution does not mention abortion. in 2018, a majority of the Iowa Supreme Court found there was a “fundamental right” to abortion under the Iowa Constitution, according to the Office of the Governor website

The Iowa Supreme Court overruled that 2018 decision on June 17. 

There is an effort in the state legislature to amend the Iowa Constitution to be clear that life starts at conception, according to the ACLU. This amendment would make abortion completely illegal, according to ACLU, stating, “this amendment is the most serious threat to reproductive freedom in Iowa in recent history.” 

The ACLU is a non-profit organization that advocates in courts, legislatures and communities, claiming to defend and preserve the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens. 

Their mission is to “realize this promise of the United States Constitution for all and expand the reach of its guarantees,” according to its website

The amendment must go through a three-step process to amend the Iowa Constitution. The first step is the amendment must pass for the first time in the Iowa Legislature, which passed for the first time in 2020. 

The next step is the amendment must pass through the Iowa Legislature for a second time during the next General Assembly. That means the amendment will have to pass for the second time before the end of the 2023 legislative session. The ALCU expects it to pass. 

The final step involves a public vote. The ALCU expects the abortion constitutional amendment will be on the November 2024 general ballot. 

The 2020 NSLVE data showed a 66% national student voting rate — a 14-percentage-point increase from the 2016 election. 

“One of the things that we do know is that college students and young people are trending toward the Democratic Party,” Kedrowski said. “We also know the population as a whole actually want to see abortion remains legal, especially for early in the pregnancy.”

While some believe college students lean toward the Democratic demographic, there are still students who want to see abortion laws implemented. 

Students For Life uses education and outreach to advocate for its beliefs and is not affiliated with a religious or political organization. Aside from their stance on abortion, the organization “takes a stand against abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, rape, torture, abuse, unjust war, capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research, suicide and human trafficking.”

Andrew Deick is a senior in software engineering and the president of the student organization Students For Life. 

“In the same way that we dehumanized people in mental health institutions, the same way we dehumanized slaves, we said that they were not people and they didn’t have rights,” said Deick, a senior in software engineering. “That’s the same way we are going about dehumanizing unborn children.” 

Sex Education Funding

ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit in May 2018 to block a law prohibiting Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from receiving funding to provide sex education for the youth in Iowa. 

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPH) challenged an Iowa statute excluding abortion providers from receiving federal education grant funds to prevent teenage pregnancies and reduce transmission of sexually transmitted infections. 

The 2018 lawsuit was in response to House File 766, a bill passed by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Reynolds. The law prevented organizations that provide abortions or advocate in support of abortion access from receiving certain grants that support sex education for the youth of Iowa, according to the ACLU website

The Supreme Court of Iowa held that “the Iowa Constitution is not the source of a fundamental right to an abortion necessitating a strict scrutiny standard of review for regulations affecting that right,” according to the Lozier Institute.

“I would like to think that no matter what our positions are on abortion, we can all come together to provide sex ed and birth control to everyone to prevent pregnancies in the first place,” Fowler said.