In Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Reynolds (Planned Parenthood III),[1] the Supreme Court of Iowa overturned its prior 2018 decision and ruled that the Iowa Constitution does not guarantee a fundamental right to an abortion, but it reserved judgment on whether to apply the Casey undue burden standard or rational basis review. The decision has major implications for the scope of Iowa’s single-subject rule, the applicability of issue preclusion to constitutional law, the role of stare decisis, and statutory and constitutional interpretation methods.

This case was the latest in a series of Planned Parenthood challenges to Iowa abortion provisions [DR1] . In a 2015 case (Planned Parenthood I), the Supreme Court of Iowa held that the undue burden test from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey[2] applies to abortion regulations under the Iowa Constitution.[3] In a 2018 case (Planned Parenthood II), the Supreme Court of Iowa struck down an Iowa statute mandating a 72-hour waiting period before performing an abortion, holding that the due process clause of the Iowa Constitution protected abortion as a fundamental right.[4]

Then in 2020, the Iowa state legislature passed House File 594 (HF 594). The bill primarily concerned the withdrawal of life support from minor children, but a late-hour amendment introduced a new 24-hour waiting period requirement for abortions.[5] On June 23, six days before the bill was signed into law, Planned Parenthood and its medical director sued the Iowa governor and the Iowa Board of Medicine seeking an injunction to prevent passage of the bill based on violations of the Iowa Constitution, including its due process clause, which Planned Parenthood II had said guaranteed a fundamental right to abortion. On June 29 the bill was signed into law by the Iowa governor. But just before this law went into effect, the district court gave Planned Parenthood their injunction and enjoined enforcement of HF 594. In doing so, the district court granted summary judgment to Planned Parenthood on two grounds: issue preclusion from Planned Parenthood II, and violation of the Iowa single-subject rule, which requires that every legislative act “shall embrace but one subject, and matters properly connected therewith; which subject shall be expressed in the title.”[6]

In a split decision, the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the lower court on both grounds. Justice Edward Mansfield, writing for the majority, first held that HF 594 does not violate the single-subject rule because both provisions of the bill—the limitation of life support and abortion waiting periods—relate to the bill’s title, “medical procedures.”[7] In support, the court cited legislative history behind the adoption of the single-subject rule, which was expressly amended to allow one Act to cover broader areas of law; over a century of state court precedent affirming the same; and the circumstances behind the passage of HF 594, which bore no signs of logrolling (which the single-subject rule seeks to eliminate).[8]

Next, the majority opinion held that Iowa was not barred by issue preclusion from defending the 24-hour waiting period because “issue preclusion does not apply to pure questions of law.”[9] Because Planned Parenthood II was decided based on the court’s answer to the “abstract question” of whether “there is a fundamental right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution,” it was not entitled to issue preclusion.[10] Furthermore, issue preclusion requires that the legal questions be identical, and a 24-hour waiting period is not identical to a 72-hour waiting period in terms of the burden imposed on women seeking an abortion.[11] Finally, the court held that issue preclusion cannot permanently foreclose the state from seeking to “revisit a broad principle of constitutional law.”[12]

A smaller majority[13] also held that stare decisis did not bar the court from reconsidering Planned Parenthood II’s holding that the Iowa Constitution contains a fundamental right to abortion because stare decisis has limited application to issues of constitutional law; Planned Parenthood II was decided “only four years ago”; and Planned Parenthood II was “overtly based on the notion of a ‘living’ constitution,” which itself assumes that constitutional law can and does change.[14]

Turning to the merits of the case, the opinion overturned Planned Parenthood II as inconsistent with the text of the Iowa Constitution, contrary to the history of its passage, and doctrinally inconsistent with prior Iowa jurisprudence. First, the court held that the doctrine set forth in Planned Parenthood II was unworkable, because it required that “any regulation of abortion must target only women who would benefit from that particular regulation.”[15] But practically applied, the court said, that is “an impossible-to-meet standard” with “no discernible endpoint until childbirth,” and it could invalidate several other laws if applied outside the abortion context.[16] Second, Planned Parenthood II rested its conclusion on “the due process clause as a right ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’”[17] Other state supreme courts that had found a state constitutional right to abortion rested their findings on other constitutional guarantees not found in the Iowa Constitution, such as privacy clauses or inalienable rights clauses.[18] As such, those other decisions had stronger “textual grounds” for finding a fundamental right to abortion than Planned Parenthood II.[19] Third, Planned Parenthood II departed from earlier Iowa jurisprudence that requires constitutional interpretation to “begin with the constitutional text itself,” which is “silent” on the issue of abortion.[20] The court held that neither the text of the Iowa Constitution’s due process clause, nor the history behind its passage, support abortion as a fundamental constitutional right in Iowa.[21]

Finally, having rejected the due process clause as a basis to uphold Planned Parenthood II, the court also rejected the Iowa Constitution’s equal protection clause in article I, section 6 as an alternative basis for affirming a fundamental right to an abortion. “[W]ell-established equal protection precedent” in Iowa requires a finding that “the challenged law makes a distinction between similarly situated individuals with respect to the purposes of the law.”[22] Because men and women are not similarly situated in their capacity to become pregnant, the court held, the equal protection rationale in Planned Parenthood II was flawed and did not support the right to an abortion.[23]

Having overturned Planned Parenthood II, a plurality of the court declined to rule on the merits of the 24-hour waiting period and remanded the case for further proceedings on whether the law should be considered under Casey’s undue burden test or rational basis review.[24] The court noted that its ultimate decision on the standard of review would likely be influenced by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.,[25] which had not been issued at the time of the court’s ruling.[26]

A number of justices filed separate opinions. Justice Matthew McDermott, joined by Justice Christopher McDonald, joined the majority opinion in its entirety but for the court’s decision to remand consideration of the 24-hour waiting period law to the district court. Justice McDermott would have “emphatically reject[ed]” the “moribund undue burden test” from Casey and instead “direct[ed] the district court to apply the rational basis test to the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge.”[27]

Justice Susan Christensen concurred with the majority opinion’s analysis on the single-subject rule and issue preclusion, but she would have ruled that stare decisis required the court to uphold Planned Parenthood II and the fundamental right to an abortion unless and until a state constitutional amendment is passed stating there is no such right.[28]

Justice Brent Appel dissented from the majority opinion in its entirety. Though he “reluctantly” agreed with the majority’s single-subject rule analysis,[29] he joined Justice Christensen’s dissent on stare decisis and would have held that Planned Parenthood II precluded the state from relitigating the impact of a waiting period on the exercise of abortion rights.[30] On the merits, he would have affirmed Planned Parenthood II and held that the Iowa Constitution grants women a fundamental right to an abortion under both the due process and equal protection clauses, and he would have applied strict scrutiny to abortion regulations instead of Casey’s undue burden standard.[31]

Note: The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the author’s employer.


[1] No. 21-0856, 2022 WL 2182983 (Iowa June 17, 2022), reh'g denied (July 5, 2022) (Planned Parenthood III).

[2] 505 U.S. 833, 878-79 (1992).

[3] Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Iowa Bd. of Med., 865 N.W.2d 252, 269 (Iowa 2015) (Planned Parenthood I).

[4] 915 N.W.2d 206, 237–38, 244 (Iowa 2018) (Planned Parenthood II).

[5] Iowa Code section 146A.1 (2021).

[6] Iowa Const. art. III, § 29.

[7] Planned Parenthood III, 2022 WL 2182983, at *11.

[8] Id. at *7–13.

[9] Id. at *15.

[10] Id. at *15–17.

[11] Id. at *16.

[12] Id. at 40.

[13] Justice Christensen joined the majority’s decision with regard to its rulings on the single-subject rule and issue preclusion only, not stare decisis or the merits of Planned Parenthood II.

[14] Planned Parenthood III, 2022 WL 2182983, at *18.

[15] Id. at *20 (citing Planned Parenthood II, 915 N.W.2d at 243).

[16] Id. at 47, 48.

[17] Planned Parenthood III, 2022 WL 2182983, at *21 (quoting Planned Parenthood II, 915 N.W.2d at 237).

[18] Id. at *21–23 (gathering cases).

[19] Id. at *23.

[20] Id.

[21] Id. at *24.

[22] Id. at *27 (quoting State v. Treptow, 960 N.W.2d 98, 104 (Iowa 2021)).

[23] Id.

[24] Id. at *27–29.

[25] No. 19-1392, 2022 WL 2276808 (U.S. June 24, 2022).

[26] Planned Parenthood III, 2022 WL 2182983, at *29.

[27] Id. (McDermott, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

[28] Id. at *33 (Christensen, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

[29] Id. at *45 (Appel, J., dissenting).

[30] Id. at *46-47 (Appel, J., dissenting).

[31] Id. at *73 (Appel, J., dissenting).

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