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Iowa Supreme Court blocks new waiting period for abortions

DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has blocked new state abortion restrictions, allowing dozens of women who had scheduled the procedure to move forward without waiting 72 hours.

The justices acted less than two hours after Governor Terry Branstad signed the bill Friday.

The court’s move frustrated some activists who advocated for the legislation. Besides the waiting period, the bill Branstad signed would outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal conditions.

Iowa lawmakers this session also approved legislation cutting off state funding for Planned Parenthood, a move that would cost Iowa about $3 million in federal Medicaid funding if approved by Branstad.


‘‘That is incredibly sobering and weighs into why there was so much emotion in the room at the bill signing today,’’ said Jenifer Bowen, a spokeswoman for Iowa Right to Life. ‘‘We’re fighting literally for unborn babies’ lives.’’

Iowa joined five other states with 72-hour requirements, the longest in the country. The states with similar policies are Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah.

Ben Hammes, a spokesman for Branstad, called the court’s injunction ‘‘part of the process,’’ adding that the governor expects the stay will soon be lifted since other states have enacted similar measures.

State Senator Mark Costello, a key Republican supporter of the legislation, said lawmakers knew it would likely face a court challenge.

‘‘It’s one of the reasons we went with this bill, which was somewhat more limited than what a lot of people wanted,’’ he said. ‘‘We felt it would be upheld.’’

The injunction followed a decision Thursday by a lower court judge who denied a request by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU to block the waiting period before Branstad signed the measure. The organizations argued that a 72-hour waiting period could cause undue harm to women by requiring multiple appointments.


Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in a statement that the law had already caused confusion for patients.

‘‘One woman had driven seven hours to her appointment, only to be told she couldn’t have the procedure today; others were angry and upset at the intrusion into their lives,’’ she said. ‘‘Our staff had to call some patients back who had just been told they would be unable to have a procedure today.’’

According to the initial lawsuit, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland provided about 2,100 medication abortions and 1,200 surgical abortions in Iowa in the past year. The clinic has eight locations that offer such services.

In another development, Alaska lawmakers demanded a public apology from a Republican legislator who said there are women in Alaska who try to get pregnant to get a ‘‘free trip to the city’’ for abortions.

Pressure mounted on Representative David Eastman, who has cited concerns with abortions being covered by state funds and Medicaid, the government health program for lower-income people.

But Eastman, who is from Wasilla, remained defiant Friday and called for hearings on abortion funding.

The dustup began last week, after Eastman was successful in amending a resolution aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse to include language referring to abortion as ‘‘the ultimate form of child abuse.’’

He said Tuesday that abortion is a serious issue that needs to be discussed. He raised in particular concerns about funding for abortions.


‘‘We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle,’’ he said.

Eastman, who is a member of the House minority, made similar comments to another media outlet later.

In a speech on the House floor Friday, Democratic state Representative Neal Foster of Nome said Eastman’s comments were unacceptable.

‘‘It shocks the conscience to think that a female in a village would want to endure the physical and the emotional pain of getting an abortion just so that they could get a free trip to Anchorage,’’ Foster said.