The Iowa High Court was deadlocked with three votes in favor and three against, rendering the lower court’s ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy unenforceable. However, the state of Iowa still permits abortions within 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Rita Bettis Austen, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, which supports abortion rights, described the ban as “dangerous, cruel, and unconstitutional.” She further stated that the ban was blocked by a district court four years ago and remains dangerous, cruel, and unconstitutional. Austen expressed the anticipation of many Iowans for a ruling that protects freedom, health, and safety.
Chris Schandevel, a senior counsel for the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, represented Republican Governor Kim Reynolds in the case. Schandevel mentioned that Iowans are undoubtedly disappointed with the court’s decision and urged the state legislature to take action to protect life.
This case stems from a law signed by Governor Reynolds in 2018, well before the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which protected women’s abortion rights. The 2018 law was initially blocked by a district court judge who cited a state Supreme Court precedent asserting that the state constitution protected the right to an abortion, but that precedent was later overturned.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Reynolds requested the district court to lift the permanent injunction against the 2018 law, but the request was denied. The case was then appealed to the Iowa High Court.
The Iowa High Court consists entirely of Republican-appointed judges, and the deadlock on the case has left the lower court’s ban in a state of uncertainty.
Three judges opposing the lifting of the injunction strongly criticized the state government’s attempt to overturn the district court’s ruling, describing it as “clumsy” and stating that such cases have never occurred in Iowa’s judicial history and are unlikely to occur again.
The deadlock in the court’s vote indicates the end of this particular case without setting a precedent. Governor Reynolds may call a special session of the state legislature to enact new legislation, as was done in South Carolina in May, or pursue a constitutional amendment.