116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Mara Higar was seven weeks pregnant when she learned from an ultrasound the embryo had implanted outside her uterus, a condition known as an ectopic pregnancy that can be fatal if left untreated.
Higar went to two doctors who said they were unable to treat the condition, and she ultimately sought treatment from Planned Parenthood. Higar said it took her four weeks to get enough money to pay for the procedure out of pocket, during which she was in pain before the non-viable pregnancy could be ended.
“This needs to be addressed and needs to be our choice — not the government telling us, ‘If you do this, you’re going to die,’” Higar said.
State laws that ban abortions, including an Iowa law struck down in 2018 that would ban abortions after six weeks, often contain exceptions for medical emergencies. But according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these laws still could threaten lifesaving treatment by causing delays and legal confusion for both patients and providers.
Higar, a 32-year-old from Des Moines, was one of several hundred people gathered Sunday at the Iowa State Capitol to demonstrate for reproductive rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which removed the federal right to an abortion and gave states the ability to restrict access to abortion.
Higar said she doesn’t want to see the government take away options from women who need abortions or reproductive health care. “That kind of stuff just doesn't sit right with me, having a 7-year-old who's not soon going to go through this stuff, but she’s eventually going to go through it. And I don’t want her to have to go through it,” she said.
The rally was organized by a broad coalition of Iowa-based civil rights and reproductive rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa and the Great Plains Action Society.
Abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks, but Gov. Kim Reynolds is bringing the abortion restriction fight to the state courts, attempting to revisit a pair of decisions that could have repercussions for abortion access in the state.
In June, a week before the federal Supreme Court decision, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a 2018 decision it made, saying the state’s constitution does not protect the right to an abortion. The ruling, however, left in place the “undue burden” standard maintained federally before Roe vs. Wade was overturned. The state Supreme Court last week rejected Reynolds’ request to revisit the standard, saying the issue must be argued in district court first.
Reynolds also is asking the courts to lift an injunction on the state’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill, which banned abortions after cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, usually around six weeks.
Several speakers at the event noted that abortions will still happen if it becomes illegal in Iowa, but they will be less safe or require expensive travel to another state where abortion is legal. Speakers encouraged attendees to vote for candidates that favor abortion rights and donate to local organizations, like the Iowa Abortion Access Fund, that help women get abortions.
“Everyone has a place in this fight for bodily autonomy,” said Denver Foote, a member of the Iowa Abortion Access fund. “Take action right now, because voting will not save us — we will save ourselves.”
Several speakers also pointed out the effects of abortion restrictions on specific communities, noting challenges faced by Black, Latino, Indigenous and disabled Americans, as well as transgender and nonbinary people, to access.
Ann Au and Pat Farland, both of Des Moines, were in their teens when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. They said they were frustrated to be back to fighting nearly 50 years later.
“It’s unbelievable that we’re back here again. It’s totally unbelievable that our government has betrayed us,” Au said.
While Reynolds and other state leaders have not said which measures they plan to take when the Iowa Legislature reconvenes, attendees said they expected to see more restrictions coming at the state level. In addition to efforts in the courts, Republicans have passed a constitutional amendment that says the state constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion, which will need to be approved by a majority of Iowa voters in the 2024.
Luana Nelson-Brown, executive director of the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change and one of the organizers of the rally, said she wanted attendees to go home and organize family and friends to advocate for abortion access, as well as donate to the organizations that put the event together. While the event was not organized with any political candidates, she said she hopes attendees vote for candidates who will protect abortion rights.
“Do your research on educating yourself on intersectionality, educating yourself on voting, and then open your pockets and share and get with your neighbors,” she said.