Staff Columnist

'Heartbeat' bill defies Iowa values

Most Iowans, even conservative Republicans, have nuanced views on abortion

We knew that the hearings leading up to the passage of Senate File 2 would bring out many supporters and opponents of the bill's proposals. The capitol was packed with people for the subcommittee hearing and I wanted to find a way to represent not only the size of the crowd, but also some of the passionate discourse going on in the hallways. In this photo, Rev. Sarah Trone Garriott, an ELCA Lutheran pastor in Des Moines, argues with Ryan Jorgenson, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Grimes before a senate subcommittee hearing on a bill that proposed removing Iowa's Family Planning waiver and created a state-run organization denying funding for health providers that offer abortion services at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. The GOP-led Iowa Senate eventually voted to earmark about $3 million in state money to fund women’s health care clinics that do not offer abortion. After moving through the house, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
We knew that the hearings leading up to the passage of Senate File 2 would bring out many supporters and opponents of the bill's proposals. The capitol was packed with people for the subcommittee hearing and I wanted to find a way to represent not only the size of the crowd, but also some of the passionate discourse going on in the hallways. In this photo, Rev. Sarah Trone Garriott, an ELCA Lutheran pastor in Des Moines, argues with Ryan Jorgenson, senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Grimes before a senate subcommittee hearing on a bill that proposed removing Iowa's Family Planning waiver and created a state-run organization denying funding for health providers that offer abortion services at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. The GOP-led Iowa Senate eventually voted to earmark about $3 million in state money to fund women’s health care clinics that do not offer abortion. After moving through the house, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

It may be hard to believe, but the person on the opposite side of the abortion protest from you probably isn’t evil.

The abortion restrictions passed by Republican lawmakers this month positioned Iowa in the middle of the country’s most heated ongoing political debate. One side lobs murder allegations, while the other calls its opponents oppressive tyrants. It sometimes seems there’s no room for a moderate position.

Yet the majority of Americans, including most Republican voters, have complicated views on abortion, not easily sorted into pro-choice or pro-life. The new Iowa law — called the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country — is out of line with mainstream opinion.

Six Republicans in the Iowa House joined Democrats in voting against the fetal heartbeat bill in the Legislature this year. Rep. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, said his opposition to overbearing abortion restrictions was reaffirmed after a member of his own family recently faced a pregnancy with fetal abnormalities.

“I firmly believe life begins at conception but I also believe that it’s a moral and religious and most of all a family decision. I believe the government should be neutral and stay out of the decision-making process” Hein told me last week.

It’s an issue many of us struggle with both personally and politically. If I say the government should not force a woman to carry a child inside her body, I alienate a sizable portion of my political allies. If I say no taxpayer dollars should ever go to organizations providing abortions, I enrage some of my close friends and family members.

The Gallup poll has measured Americans’ opinions on abortion rights since at least 1975, consistently finding around half who believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, fewer who believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, and even fewer who believe abortion should always be illegal.

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A research project published by the non-partisan polling firm PerryUndem earlier this year provides a deeper look at Americans’ complicated feelings.

The study found 72 percent of all voters support keeping Roe V. Wade in place, even as only 56 percent said they can imagine a situation where abortion would be the best option for themselves or a partner. Analysts also found 88 percent would support a friend or family member seeking an abortion, regardless of their personal feelings.

And while 36 percent of Republicans said they are less likely to vote for candidates who support the legal right to an abortion, nearly twice as many said it either makes no difference or makes them more likely to support a candidate.

Abortion advocates are correct that top Republicans have grown more fervent in their crusade for anti-abortion policies. From my experience as a party activist, I can tell you there are corners of the conservative movement where a nuanced view on abortion always meets hostile rejection.

However, I have also observed the no-compromise crowd in the abortion debate represents a well-organized and influential minority, not the majority of Iowa conservatives. Republican organizers and policymakers have told me privately they don’t truly support the most restrictive measures, but feel they have no choice politically.

“There’s more numbers than you realize. I know there was a fair amount of Republicans in the House who really struggled with the issue,” Hein said.

There are two passages which frequently come to mind when I wrestle with the questions surrounding abortion policies.

One is from the plurality U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. Justices wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

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The other is from the 1993 hit Tupac single “Keep Ya Head Up.” The rapper said, “Since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman and our game from a woman, I wonder why we take from our women? Why we rape our women? Do we hate our women? … And since a man can’t make one, he has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one.”

What resonates with me is neither passage can easily be construed to be encouraging women to seek abortions, or even justifying the morality thereof. They only argue it’s an individual decision, rather than a collective one.

Individualism over collectivism is supposed to be the foundation of conservative political thought. Too many Republican politicians seem to have forgotten.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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