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Neighbors Growing Together | May 24, 2017

Abortion providers respond to recent court injunction

By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette | May 09, 2017

Planned Parenthood clinics and other Iowa abortion providers are stuck in limbo while they wait for the Iowa Supreme Court to decide whether to keep a temporary injunction in place that lifted the mandatory 72-hour waiting period women must follow before receiving an abortion.

“We will continue to provide services but are in a holding pattern,” said Rachel Lopez, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. That’s because the Supreme Court could make a decision at any time on whether to lift the state’s injunction, potentially impacting “dozens and dozens of women,” with scheduled abortions, Lopez said.

On Friday, Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation that created new abortion restrictions, including a ban for most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and a 72-hour waiting period for every woman seeking the medical procedure. Soon after, the Iowa Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction against enforcing the three-day waiting period, which allowed the 44 women who already had procedures scheduled for Friday to obtain them.

The decision came in response to a Thursday ruling by a Polk County judge, which rejected the ACLU and Planned Parenthood’s request to stop implementation of the law until the matter can be decided in court.

The state quickly responded, filing a response Friday afternoon calling the injunction an “extraordinary remedy” that only should be issued to avoid irreparable damage. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office argued that the waiting period does not create irreparable harm to women seeking abortions, adding the only harm patients will suffer is the “denial of a right to abortion on demand.”

“They do not claim that they will be unable to reschedule any of these women in a timely fashion, nor do they claim that any of these women will face increased travel costs, employment consequences or the inability to receive a medication or surgical abortion ... .”

But that is exactly what can happen, said Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union in court filings.

More than 51 percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients are at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty line — making less than $13,068. The waiting period requires an additional trip that can result in more time off from school or work, lost wages, extra child-care costs and additional travel expenses, the groups said.

“Moreover, in Iowa, a significant number of women have an abortion one to two weeks before the gestational age cutoffs both for medication abortion and for surgical abortion, which demonstrates that timely access to abortion is critical,” the groups argued.

Additional records filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union describe the confusion and anxiety caused by the legislation on Friday.

In an affidavit, Jason Burkhiser Reynolds, a Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinic manager in Des Moines, said staff had to turn away patients, many of whom traveled hours to the clinic, only later to call to inform those patients they could obtain the procedure.

However, it was too late for some, who already were on their way back home.

“For the health center staff, it was wrenching to send desperate patients away early Friday morning without the care they sought,” he said. “Once the act was blocked, it was an immense relief to to provide the procedure they urgently wanted.”

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