An anti-abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution is back under discussion in the Iowa Legislature this year as House Republicans try again to pass the measure after it failed last year.
The measure advanced through a House subcommittee Tuesday morning on a 2-1 vote, with Republicans in favor and the panel’s Democrat opposed.
While hearings on abortion-related bills typically draw large crowds to the Iowa Capitol, Tuesday morning’s subcommittee was quiet. Opponents of the measure chose to stay away from the building over concerns about COVID-19 and the potential for violent protests at statehouses in anticipation of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The language of the proposed constitutional amendment states: “To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the state of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”
Republicans have described the amendment as a correction of the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision which found there is a fundamental right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. They say that decision amounted to judicial overreach and went around lawmakers to amend the constitution via judicial ruling.
Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, was one of several speakers at Tuesday’s subcommittee who criticized the court decision while speaking in favor of the amendment.
“I believe the people of Iowa and not unelected judges of the state supreme court should decide how Iowa regulates abortion,” she said. “These radical judges took the rights away from all Iowans and thereby preventing common sense protections for women and children. What these judges did was even more extreme than Roe V. Wade.”
The amendment passed the Senate last year but failed to pass the House. This year, Republicans will benefit from a larger House majority as they try again, and opponents are worried they’ll succeed.
“We have no reason to believe it won’t pass the Iowa House of Representatives this year,” Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said at a virtual news conference.
“Let’s call this what it is: An attempt to ban abortion in Iowa,” she said. “By proposing this amendment, Iowa politicians are laying the groundwork to ban abortion in Iowa if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.”
Republicans, like Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said the amendment is necessary to prohibit “late term” abortions and ensure taxpayer money is not used to fund abortions.
“We need this amendment because without it we could see taxpayer funded and late term abortion in Iowa,” Holt said Tuesday.
Iowa law currently bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Republicans, who control the House, Senate and governor’s office, have also passed other laws to restrict abortions in Iowa in recent years.
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, who served on the subcommittee, said the measure would curtail women’s freedoms. She said she trusts women to make their own decisions about their health.
“We should be talking about our increased maternal death rate. We should be talking about access to prenatal care. But instead we’re talking about taking away the most basic of freedoms and that’s the health care of women who are seeking it,” she said.
Amendments to the Iowa Constitution must pass two consecutive two-year sessions of the Iowa Legislature before they can be placed on a statewide ballot for an up or down vote. If the amendment passes this year or next and again in 2023 or 2024 it can be placed on Iowans’ ballots in 2024.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.
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