In a historic decision today in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Reynolds, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed its previous ruling that the state constitution protects abortion as a fundamental right. As the court writes: “PPH II [Planned Parenthood of the Heartland II] lacks textual and historical support. It is doctrinally inconsistent with prior Iowa jurisprudence concerning family rights that followed a balancing approach. Its rhetoric is one-sided. Its constitutional footing is unsound.”  

Although the lawsuit challenged Iowa’s twenty-four-hour reflection period, the State asked the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider whether abortion is a fundamental right under the state constitution. The court noted that reflection periods are common and “[i]n any event, Iowa law has waiting periods for other important decisions that implicate fundamental rights, including marriage, adoption, and divorce.” The state supreme court described that stare decisis isn’t an “inexorable command” and PPH II doesn’t require adherence to bad precedent. PPH II set forth a radical litigation standard, under which “any abortion regulation is facially unconstitutional for all purposes unless as drafted it contains every conceivable necessary exception that the court can think of . . . . That’s rational basis deference in reverse.” The Iowa Supreme Court concluded that PPH II is unworkable and must be overruled.  

Iowa’s Equal Protection Clause

The court further noted that abortion is not protected under the state equal protection clause: 

PPH II skipped a step in the equal protection analysis – the first one. Under our well-established equal protection precedent, before finding a violation, we first needed to find that women were similarly situated to men as it related to the purposes of the law. . . . Women undeniably are not. Planned Parenthood’s brief acknowledges as much . . .”

Waiting on Dobbs for Further Guidance

The Iowa Supreme Court, however, did not take a position on the litigation standard for abortion cases. The parties had not briefed the litigation standard issue, and the court noted that the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization would provide guidance on what standard to employ in abortion cases. Accordingly, the court remanded the case so that the parties could brief the litigation standard issue.  

Partially concurring and partially dissenting, Justice McDermott urged that “[the court] should emphatically reject—not recycle—Casey’s moribund undue burden test and instead direct the district court to apply the rational basis test to the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge.” Justice McDermott noted that rational basis review is the appropriate standard for abortion cases. 

Americans United for Life applauds the Iowa Supreme Court’s commitment to proper constitutional analysis and its decision to turn back from reinforcing the false notion that abortion is a vaunted constitutional right.