116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Kansas voters who soundly defeated an effort to remove abortion protections from the state constitution are a beacon of hope for Iowa Democrats and other defenders of reproductive rights.
The proposed Kansas amendment got thumped, 59 percent to 41 percent. It looked more like a University of Kansas football blowout loss than a red state election.
Turnout surged for the Aug. 2 vote, with more than 900,000 of the state’s voters, nearly half of registered voters, casting ballots. Between June 24, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and tossed a constitutional right to abortion, and a mid-July registration deadline, 33,000 Kansans registered to vote.
Of those new voters, 70 percent were women. The court’s decision appears to have changed the electoral landscape in a significant way. Other states have also seen women lead a surge of new voter registrations.
So what about Iowa’s landscape? Well, we’re not in Kansas.
According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, 9,483 Iowans registered to vote between June 24 and this past week. That number doesn’t count registered voters who re-registered after moving to a different county. Among them are 1,592 Democrats, 2,392 Republicans and 5,383 no-party voters.
Just more than 50 percent of those new voters are women, or 4,760. So there hasn’t been a Kansas-sized surge of women registering to vote. Male registrations, 4,723, make up just more than 49 percent.
But new registrants do skew young. Fifty-eight percent of women who registered are between the ages of 17 and 24. Iowa allows 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day to register. Add in new registrations from women ages 25-34, the percentage young voters jumps to 72 percent of women who registered. Among male voters who registered, 60 percent are ages 17-24.
So we’re seeing more registrations among younger voters. And we know younger voters are more concerned about abortion rights and oppose curtailing them. Women do make up a slight majority of new registrations. But we’re not seeing a surge in Democratic registrations, although we know many young, potentially left-of-center voters register as independents.
Young Iowans have the most to lose if abortion is effectively banned. And we’re going to lose more young people if Iowa becomes a place where forced birth becomes state policy.
To be fair, Iowa is in a far different situation than Kansas. Voters there faced a clear up-or-down vote on abortion rights. The election occurred just more than a month after the Dobbs ruling, so outrage over the loss of reproductive rights was still burning hot.
In Iowa, the abortion debate is scattered among dozens of federal, statewide and legislative races this fall. Abortion rights are a huge issue, but not the only issue that will help decide these races. Instead of an up-or-down vote, voters may deliver a messy verdict.
Take the race for governor. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds supports draconian restrictions on abortion rights. Democrat Deidre DeJear strongly favors abortion rights. It’s the closest thing to a clear vote for or against abortion rights on the ballot.
And yet, a Des Moines Register Mediacom Iowa Poll released in July showed that 24 percent of voters who support legal abortion and plan to vote in November said they would vote for Reynolds. Forty-nine percent said they would vote for the actual pro-choice candidate, DeJear.
Overall, 60 percent of Iowans polled support legal abortion in all or most cases, the highest number ever recorded by an Iowa Poll.
So it’s no surprise Republican candidates are not shouting anti-abortion diatribes from the rooftops. Although abortion was a big issue in several GOP primaries, GOP general election hopefuls are emphasizing economic issues while arguing all Democrats are Joe Biden.
Reynolds has asked a state court to lift an injunction blocking enforcement of a six week abortion ban, picking a slow boat through the courts instead of a special legislative session that would have shined a glaring spotlight on the issue. But the ultimate objective is to get an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for harsh restrictions, which she will gladly sign into law. The surest way to protect reproductive rights is to defeat Reynolds.
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson favors abortion restrictions but has tried to distract voters by saying she opposes charging women who get abortions with crimes and emphasizing her support for a weak measure on over-the-counter contraceptives. But she’s also a co-sponsor of a bill that says life begins at conception. Ignore the rights-trampling elephant in the room.
Iowans who care deeply about reproductive rights aren’t fooled by this stuff. They know the score. But will enough voters who support abortion rights but less passionately cast ballots to turn back the onslaught? At this point, we don’t know.
What we do know is if voters don’t deliver change, Reynolds, the GOP Legislature and a conservative state Supreme Court will yank away the rights of Iowans who want to make difficult, personal medical decisions without government interference. So abortion rights clearly are on the ballot In Iowa, and Democrats and their allies need to work overtime to make sure voters understand the stakes.
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