Iowa abortion rights supporters face few options

Abortion-rights supporters counterprotest in front of anti-abortion activists picketing Thursday at the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City. (Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via AP)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Even with the legality of the medical procedure now hanging in the balance, care at Iowa’s abortion clinics continues.

Following Friday’s announcement that the US Supreme Court had overturned the landmark 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, Iowa’s abortion providers — Planned Parenthood and the Emma Goldman Clinic — were still open and providing patient care.

“Abortion still is legal in Iowa and we’ll continue to provide abortions as long as its still legal in Iowa,” said Francine Thompson, executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic.

How long abortion access in Iowa will remain unchanged is unknown, but the news does not shock Thompson and other abortion activists.

“We’ve been preparing for this reality for a while,” Thompson said. “Even though this is the big one, there has been a continuous assault to the right to choose abortion since Roe passed in 1973.”

Here’s what the court’s decisions means for those who are in favor of abortion rights.

Iowa sees upstick in patients from other states

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and other GOP leadership have declined to say whether they will call a special session of the Iowa Legislature to take up a new abortion law that would further limit or even ban abortions in the state.

Other Midwest states, anticipating the court’s ruling, enact “trigger laws” that made abortion illegal once Roe v. Wade was struck down. Those states include North Dakota and South Dakota, which are part of the Planned Parenthood North Central States network.

Advocates say women prohibited from seeking abortions in their state will travel, if they have the means, to other states to seek the procedure, quickly driving up demand for those providers.

Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States, told reporters Friday the organization anticipates that Iowa, as well as Nebraska and Minnesota, will see an influx of patients almost immediately.

“For the last several months, in earnest, we’ve been working on how we would be able to increase access to abortion in states that continue to have patients,” Traxler said.

That effort includes increasing capacity at telemedicine abortion sites and recruiting more staff, such as physicians and patient navigators. Planned Parenthood also is increasing other supports for patients traveling across the region, Traxler said.

Already this past month, abortion clinics in Iowa were seeing the ripple effects of abortion policies in other states.

At the Rosenfield Health Center in Des Moines, clinic staff said their appointments were booked out for months after they saw an influx of patients from across the country traveling to their site. Some were traveling from as far as Texas.

“It’s hard,” said Jordaw Williams, clinic manager. “The patients are traveling, and we’re trying to literally see everyone and realizing it’s not always possible to see everyone. That reality is heartbreaking.”

Constitutional amendment

The “founding mothers” of the Emma Goldman Clinic, who gathered at the Iowa City clinic earlier this month, recall the years before Roe v. Wade was law of the land. Women who could afford to travel went to other countries to have abortions. Those who couldn’t weighed the risk of receiving underground abortions.

“That’s all we’ve ever wanted, choice and safety for women,” said Deborah Nye, a founder of the clinic who now lives in Arizona.

Opponents of abortion rights say they will continue to push for a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution that states the document does not guarantee a fundamental right to an abortion. If language is approved again by lawmakers, it could appear on ballots in Iowa in 2024.

But some say the modification could backfire on its supporters.

“I feel at this point that would benefit us, because Iowans do believe in the right to abortion,” said April Clark, nurse and senior training and development specialist at Planned Parenthood, who pointed to recent polling that showed the majority of Iowans did support some form of abortion access.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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