The Supreme Court of the State of Iowa (in the United States of America) has held that the State Constitution is not a source to claim abortion as a fundamental right. In holding so, it has overruled its own decision rendered four years back in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds (PPH II) (2018) ('PPH II'), wherein it was ruled that right to abortion is a fundamental right under the State Constitution of Iowa.
While authoring the majority opinion, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote,
"Hence, all we hold today is 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. For now, this means that the Casey undue burden test we applied in PPH I remains the governing standard. On remand, the parties should marshal and present evidence under that test, although the legal standard may also be litigated further."
In PPH II (supra), the Court was confronted with a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for abortion that the State Legislature had enacted in 2017. The Court had ruled that the Iowa Constitution and specifically, the due process clause, protects abortion as a fundamental right. Accordingly, it had concluded that the waiting period could not survive 'strict scrutiny' under that test and struck it down as unconstitutional.
In 2020, the general assembly of the State added a mandatory '24-hour waiting period' for abortion to pending legislation limiting courts' ability to withdraw life-sustaining procedures. The 24-hour waiting period involved the same period of time that the United States Supreme Court had upheld in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
However, the Planned Parenthood sued successfully in District Court to block the operation of the statute. The District Court granted summary judgment to Planned Parenthood on two alternative grounds. First, it opined that the 2020 legislation violated the "single-subject rule" of the Iowa Constitution (Article III, Section 29); secondly, it concluded that the decision in PPH II (supra) invalidating a 72-hour waiting period had "issue preclusive effect".
The State appealed the decision of the District Court. It argued that the 2020 legislation did not embrace more than one subject, and matters properly connected therewith. Therefore, it does not violate "single-subject rule" test. It also contended that "issue preclusion" does not apply here and even if that applied, that also does not bar the State from seeking to overrule PPH II (supra).
The majority ruled that a limit on abortion and a limit on withdrawing life-sustaining procedures both pertain to the subject of "medical procedures," as stated in the Bill's title. Therefore, no violation of the single-subject rule took place. Further, as far as issue preclusion was concerned, the majority agreed with the State that a 72-hour waiting period and a 24-hour waiting period are not identical. They also concurred that issue preclusion does not bar a state's highest court from revisiting its own decision on a broad question of constitutional law such as the right to an abortion.
It also clarified that any subsidiary fact-findings it made in PPH II (supra) occurred within a constitutional framework that placed every burden of persuasion and proof on the State. Hence, if it overrules that broad constitutional framework, the findings cannot have preclusive effect. Accordingly, after carefully considering the arguments advanced by both the sides, it was decided that PPH II (supra) should be overruled.
The Court also acknowledged the expected overhaul in the federal abortion regime and thus, observed,
"In addition, we are not blind to the fact that an important abortion case is now pending in the United States Supreme Court. See Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org., 141 S. Ct. 2619 (2021) (Mem.) (granting certiorari). That case could alter the federal constitutional landscape established by Roe and Casey. While we zealously guard our ability to interpret the Iowa Constitution independently of the Supreme Court's interpretations of the Federal Constitution, the opinion (or opinions) in that case may provide insights that we are currently lacking."
Citing the rule of stare decisis, Chief Justice Susan Christensen refused to overrule PPH II. She also held the aforesaid 24-hour waiting period to be "impermissibly broad". In her words,
"Overall, the 24-hour waiting period is impermissibly broad to the same extent the 72-hour waiting period was in 2018. Because "[s]tare decisis instructs us to treat like cases alike," the result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago in PPH II invalidating an extremely similar law. For these reasons, I would not overrule PPH II, which would necessarily result in my conclusion that the 24-hour waiting period at issue is unconstitutional."
Justice Brent R. Appel also expressed his strong dissent against the majority verdict and warned the possible harms to the reproductive autonomy of women in the State of Iowa in the coming days. He observed,
"For those who favor a woman's autonomy and personal freedom, this is an unwelcome development. A strong barrier to state interference in a woman's right to determine whether to have an abortion has been removed by the majority. And the right to abortion is left in a free fall. Make no mistake—reproductive rights are at great risk with this decision."
Case Title: Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Kim Reynolds ex rel. State of Iowa
Date of Judgment: 17th June 2022