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Two court decisions restricting abortion rights, one by the state Supreme Court and then one a week later by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, create a critical moment for abortion access in Iowa.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, eliminating federal protection of abortion and handing the question of legality back to the states. The decision follows a ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court that also reversed its earlier decision that the state constitution protects the right to abortion — a change that means Iowa’s Republican governor and lawmakers have an opportunity to create even stricter abortion laws in the state.
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Iowa’s GOP leadership, which has made abortion restriction a key legislative priority, will likely restrict or ban the procedure. Gov. Kim Reynolds and other GOP leadership have declined to say whether they will call a special session of the Iowa Legislature to take up a new abortion law.
Here’s what that means for those who are against abortion rights.
Opponents push for constitutional change
To those who are working to end abortion in Iowa, judicial decisions on the state and federal level are not their only goal. It's also a vote that may appear on ballots in Iowa in a few years.
Overturning Roe v. Wade — while a victory for opponents of abortion rights — is not the “instantaneous solution” to ending the medical procedure in the state, said Iowa Right to Life Executive Director Kristi Judkins.
Instead, the advocacy group will support the effort to enshrine an amendment in the Iowa Constitution stating the constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.
Iowa Republican lawmakers approved language for the amendment last year. Legislators will have to agree on the same language in 2023 or 2024 before the measure could appear on ballots in 2024, where Iowans would vote in favor or against.
If approved by voters, the language would be added as an amendment to the state’s constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in their favor “does not negate the need” for this proposal, Judkins said. A constitutional amendment would put some finality to the issue, instead of subjecting the issue to further back-and-forth between political parties and the courts.
“With this amendment language, it gives Iowans the opportunity to be the ones to decide whether they want that language as part of the constitution,” she said.
Iowa Right to Life plans to continue to push for that proposal, even with the recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling.
In a 182-page ruling released June 17, the state Supreme Court justices “reject the proposition that there is a fundamental right to an abortion in Iowa’s Constitution,” thus undoing the precedent the court set in 2018.
However, the ruling does not go beyond that. In the majority opinion, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote the justices “do not at this time decide what constitutional standard should replace it.”
Abortion still is legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks. However, given Iowa GOP’s leadership’s previous efforts to pass legislation restricting the procedure, the state needs to boost aid for an influx of Iowans carrying unintended pregnancies, said Sheryl Schwager, executive director of Johnson County Right to Life.
“We need to continue to provide all the resources we can so women don’t feel like they have to take into their own hands,” she said.
Schwager pointed to pointed to pregnancy support centers as a solution.
These centers — also known as crisis pregnancy centers — offer free services to women, such as free pregnancy tests. However, they are strictly anti-abortion and some do not employ trained medical staff.
State lawmakers recently approved a $500,000 taxpayer-funded appropriation to a “More Options for Maternal Support” program, which would provide funds for “pregnancy support services” at these centers. Subcontractors would not be allowed to provide abortion referrals or counseling unless physician “confirms the termination of pregnancy is medically necessary to prevent the pregnant woman’s death.”
Several pregnancy support centers contacted by The Gazette for comment did not respond to requests for comment.
Lack of support is often what drives women to seek abortions, Schwager said. Moving forward, she and other activists hope to spread more awareness on resources available through this pregnancy support centers and other agencies to help those with an unintended pregnancy.
“If we can step in and provide those resources and start educating people to let them know resources out there, it will tilt the decision in the direction of life,” Schwager said.
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