116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics
Iowa lawmakers squash proposed abortion bans, but access ‘hangs by a thread’
GOP leaders waiting on outcome of Iowa Supreme Court case
DES MOINES — Among the bills that didn't survive Friday's legislative “funnel” deadline were those dealing with abortion, including proposals to ban nearly all abortions and the use of abortion pills in Iowa.
The bills show an eagerness by rank-and-file Republicans to ban abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June, removing the federal right to an abortion and sending the issue back to states.
But GOP leaders have said they want to wait, for now, on the outcome of an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that could clear the way to ban abortions in Iowa after six weeks into a pregnancy.
As of now, abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks. But Iowa's legal landscape remains unsettled when it comes to abortion restrictions.
Abortion-rights advocates warn abortion access in Iowa "hangs by a thread," and that GOP leaders have ways to revive legislation later in the session if they want to impose restrictions.
Walgreens also announced last week it will not distribute abortion pills in states — including Iowa — where Republican attorneys general have threatened legal action if the company began distributing the drugs, which have become the nation’s most popular method for ending a pregnancy.
And lawmakers were successful in advancing Senate File 324 that includes portions of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ sweeping health care bill, including a $1.5 million increase in funding to the 55 pregnancy resource centers in the state that counsel against abortion.
“For now, abortion remains safe and legal in Iowa, thanks to the uproar from Iowans about the proposed abortion ban,” said Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa. “But, make no mistake, this fight is far from over.
“Even though Republicans in Iowa can’t agree on how or when to ban abortion, their intent to outlaw it is crystal clear. We stand with Iowans and aren’t backing down, because people — not politicians or judges — should control their bodies and future.”
Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird signed on to a letter last month warning pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS of legal trouble if they follow through on plans to deliver abortion pills by mail.
The letter, signed by 20 Republican attorneys general, argued the pharmacies risked violating federal law by mailing abortion pills — known as a medication abortion — contradicting guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which recently loosened restrictions allowing patients to be prescribed the two-dose regimen without an in-person visit.
Bird told the Quad-City Times she disagreed with the way the drug, mifepristone, was approved for distribution and had safety concerns about the broader accessibility of medication abortions.
“Abortion pills carry the added risk that when these heightened complications invariably occur, women suffer those harms at home, away from medical help,” the Republican attorneys general wrote in their letter.
“And finally, mail-order abortion pills also invite the horror of an increase in coerced abortions. … Outside the regulated medical context, a person can obtain an abortion pill quite easily and then coerce a woman into taking it.”
Medication abortions — which remain legal in Iowa — are safe and effective, with fewer than 1 percent of patients having complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
More than 79 percent of the 4,058 abortions performed in the state in 2020 were medically induced. Final data for 2021 was not yet available.
Iowa was one of 13 states that participated in a national pilot and research project the FDA used to suspend in-person dispensing requirements for abortion pills for the duration of the pandemic.
Sites sent study packages containing mifepristone and misoprostol by mail and had remote follow-up consultations within one month.
Researchers determined that outcomes were comparable to in-clinic care and that the direct-to-patient telemedicine service was highly effective and critical to protecting patient safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twenty House Republicans introduced a bill, House File 510, that states life begins at fertilization and ban nearly all abortions in Iowa.
The bill — titled the “Iowa Human Life Protection Act” --- states "unborn human beings are entitled to the full and equal protection of the laws that prohibit violence against other human beings.“
"Abortion is a murderous act of violence that purposefully and knowingly terminates a human life in the womb," the bill states.
The bill would allow Iowans to file lawsuits against anyone who performs an elective abortion, administers a drug that is intended to cause an elective abortion or aids or abets someone seeking an elective abortion in the state. Lawsuits, though, could not be brought against a pregnant woman who gets an abortion.
The measure also would require internet providers to block Iowans’ access to websites related to abortion care.
The spiked proposal contained exemptions for in vitro fertility treatments, for emergency contraception such as Plan B, for intrauterine devices and medical care that is intended to treat miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, for a medical emergency or to "save the life or preserve the health of an unborn child."
House File 146 would ban the prescribing, sale or transfer of mifepristone and other common drugs used for medication abortions. If the bill passes and is signed into law, dispensing the drugs would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $13,660.
Both bills were quickly squashed by House leadership and never assigned a subcommittee hearing.
Supreme Court case
Leaders in the Republican-led Legislature say they're waiting on an Iowa Supreme Court decision on whether to reinstate a blocked law that would ban the procedure except in the earliest weeks of pregnancy before taking any more steps to restrict abortion in the state.
Republican House Speaker Pat Grassley of New Hartford told reporters Thursday his position and that of Senate leaders and the governor “hasn’t changed.”
“I wouldn’t look at that as any sort of broad framework that’s been laid out by leadership by any means,” Grassley said of House File 510. “We have members of our caucus that are very passionate about the issue and protecting the unborn. …
“But, from my perspective, until we see what the court does, I don’t think you’re going to see any action on pieces of legislation … until we see what the court standards are set out.”
The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments April 11 on a request by Reynolds to reinstate a 2018 law that would effectively ban most abortions once cardiac activity is detected, around the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
The Iowa Supreme Court in June reversed its 2018 decision and now holds that the Iowa Constitution does not provide a fundamental right to an abortion. But justices have not said what standard they would use to view any new potential laws.
“We have said from the beginning that House Republicans will stop at nothing until every Iowan has lost their right to make their own health care decisions when it comes to the issue of reproductive freedom,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst told reporters Thursday.
Konfrst said the proposed near-total abortion ban bill “is proof that this is true.”
“We hear a lot of times they’re not going to do anything this year: ‘We’re going to wait. We’re going to wait,’ ” the Windsor Heights Democrat said. “I will believe it when I see it. … Otherwise, I believe they simply can’t help themselves. This is an issue, again, that rallies their base” and “goes too far.”
“It’s not what Iowans want,” she said.
More than 60 percent of Iowans surveyed believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll from October.
Caleb McCullough of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.
Abortion history lecture set in Iowa City
IOWA CITY — Patricia Cline Cohen, emeritus professor of history at the University of California Santa Barbara, will review the history of reproductive rights in a March 23 program at the Iowa City Public Library.
Cline Cohen, who has co-authored friend-of-the-court briefs in abortion court cases, is currently research abortion in the 19th century.
She will be joined in the “Abortion History Matters” program by Lina-Maria Murillo, a professor of gender, women’s sexuality studies and history at the University of Iowa, who will review the history of abortion access in Iowa.
The 6:30 to 8 p.m. in-person program will be hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County and co-sponsored by The Gazette and the Iowa City Public Library.
The presentation also will be streamed live on the library's channel. Library staff will record the program for rebroadcast on the library’s YouTube channel.
Comments: (319) 398-8499; email@example.com