116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With a potential amendment to the state constitution and a looming key case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the future of abortion services in Iowa is uncertain.
Those pending outcomes have the potential to dramatically impact to what extent abortion remains legal both in Iowa and around the country. And those monumental cases come as access to abortions has become limited in Iowa even as the number of abortions here has increased.
“It’s very clear across the country reproductive freedom is under attack,” said Jamie Burch Elliott, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa. “Abortion access is being limited.”
Only nine medical facilities in Iowa provided abortions in 2017 — a 33 percent decline from three years earlier — and 93 percent of Iowa counties had no such facility, according to a recent study from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization that advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights. More than half of Iowa women lived in the counties with no medical facility that provided abortions, the institute said.
And yet the number of abortions in Iowa increased 24 percent in 2019, the most recent year for which state public health data is available. It’s a jump that critics attribute to the state’s decision to withdraw from a federally funded family planning program.
There were 3,542 abortions provided in Iowa in 2019, according to state data. Of those, roughly two-thirds were medically induced and roughly one-third were surgically induced, according to the data.
The number of abortions in the state could be dramatically impacted pending the outcome of Republican state lawmakers’ attempt to amend Iowa’s constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
During the recently concluded session of the Iowa Legislature, Republicans approved a proposal that began the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to state that the document does not guarantee the right to an abortion.
The proposed constitutional amendment is in response to recent state court decisions that have struck down legislation restricting access to abortions, including proposals that would have required a three-day waiting period before an abortion and banned abortions after the fetus’ heartbeat can be detected.
Republicans’ plan is that if the state constitution states it does not guarantee the right to an abortion, future legislative attempts to restrict abortions will have a better chance of surviving legal challenges.
The Iowa Legislature must pass the proposed amendment again after an election — in 2023 at the earliest. If the Legislature passes the proposed amendment a second time, it will go to a public vote, likely in 2024.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review a Mississippi law that would outlaw most abortions after 15 weeks of a pregnancy. It is an opportunity for the conservative court to scrap the central principle enunciated in Roe v. Wade and later cases that women have a right to abortion before a fetus is viable. Reproductive rights advocates worry the court will use the case to overturn Roe.
Mary Smith with Gabriel’s Corner in Council Bluffs, a Christian ministry opposed to abortion rights that works with women and men facing an unplanned pregnancy, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case. She said the ministry hopes the case will lead to an eventual overturning of Roe.
“We pray daily for an end to abortion,” Smith said.
Gabriel’s Corner works with women and men to “choose life for their babies by either accepting their role as a parent or giving their baby up for adoption,” according to its website.
Smith said Gabriel’s Corner offers free services to area mothers and fathers, including ultrasounds, counseling and monetary assistance. She said the organization has helped more than 10,000 “abortion-vulnerable women” since its founding 15 years ago.
“People are on hard times. They make poor choices. We work to help them through it,” Smith said.
Burch Elliott said the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling and proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution could lead to the end of legal abortion in Iowa.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we could be looking at abortion being illegal in Iowa in the near future,” she said. “Iowans support safe access to abortion. It should remain legal in the state.”
Fewer than one-third of Iowans support the proposed constitutional amendment while 58 percent oppose it, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll published in March.
More generally, a 52 percent majority of Iowans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center polling, while 46 percent of Iowans believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.