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Iowa Attorney General candidates share feelings on abortion law enforcement
Democratic incumbent Tom Miller and Republican challenger Brenna Bird discussed myriad issues for an Iowa PBS program
JOHNSTON — No woman or pregnant individual who has an abortion under a state law that Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking the courts to install would face criminal charges, but doctors who perform abortions in Iowa would face punishment from the state medicine board, the Republican candidate for Iowa Attorney General said Friday.
Democratic incumbent Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Republican challenger Brenna Bird are the guests for this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS, which was recorded Friday morning.
Bird, the Guthrie County Attorney and a former legal counselor to then-Gov. Terry Branstad, said on the show she is “100 percent pro-life” and that it would be her job as state attorney general to defend any abortion restriction passed by state lawmakers and the governor.
Reynolds, also a Republican, has asked the state courts to lift an injunction on a 2018 law that would ban abortions once a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected. A judge halted its implementation shortly after its passage, citing previous Iowa Supreme Court rulings on abortion.
Reynolds asked the state courts to lift that injunction after the Iowa Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year overturned previous rulings, which essentially eliminated a pregnant person’s right to an abortion.
For now, abortion remains legal in Iowa until roughly 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Proponents say so-called fetal heartbeat laws ban abortions at roughly six weeks, which often is before a woman knows she is pregnant. But physicians and medical experts say what can be detected that early in a pregnancy is not a heartbeat, but instead are electric pulses.
The shelved Iowa law says women would not face criminal charges for having an abortion. The legislation instructs the state medicine board to adopt rules to administer the law — meaning doctors who perform abortions would be subject to losing their license to practice.
“I will defend our laws. And that heartbeat bill certainly did not have any criminal penalties in it, nor did it jail anyone,” Bird said during taping. “When I’m attorney general, I will do my job and defend the law.”
Miller declined to defend the state in legal challenges to the 2018 law, citing his personal beliefs about abortion. On Friday, Miller said he stood by that decision and called it the “ethical” and “right” thing to do.
“I believe the (U.S.) Supreme Court made a big mistake in overturning Roe v. Wade (the landmark decision that ensured a national right to an abortion). I think Roe was the right formula to deal with abortion in our country,” said Miller, the most tenured state attorney general in U.S. history. “And I think that a lot of women feel incredible threats in terms of their liberty and in terms of their freedom to take care of their own medical conditions. And I support them in that.”
Bird reiterated her campaign promise to serve as a state attorney general who would sue Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration over myriad federal policies.
Bird also said she would not honor the current handshake agreement between Reynolds and Miller — under which Miller must gain the governor’s approval before entering the Attorney General’s Office into a multistate lawsuit against a federal administration — if she were to serve as a Republican attorney general under a Democratic governor.
“Iowa Press” will air on Iowa PBS at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon on Sunday, and is available to watch at iowapbs.org.
The election is Nov. 8. Early voting begins Oct. 19.
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