Fact checker: Braley hits Ernst on abortion

Candidates seeking Iowa seat in U.S. Senate

Joni Ernst, Iowa state senator and Republican candidate for United States Senate, addresses journalists after Iowa Lieut
Joni Ernst, Iowa state senator and Republican candidate for United States Senate, addresses journalists after Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds announced her support for Ernst's candidacy in a brief statement at the Veterans Memorial Building on Monday, Oct. 8, 2013, in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)


“In the state Senate, Ernst sponsored an amendment to outlaw abortion, even in cases of incest or rape. And Ernst's bill would have banned many common forms of birth control. Ernst even wants criminal punishment for doctors who perform an abortion.”

Source of claim

Bruce Braley Campaign ad airing on local TV


Joni Ernst was one of 21 state senators, all but one of them Republican, who proposed Senate Joint Resolution 10 in April 2013. It proposed to change Iowa's Constitution to read “the inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected.” The amendment did not even come to a vote in the Democratically-controlled Iowa Senate.

Known as a “personhood amendment” it would effectively define life as starting at conception, indirectly making abortion unconstitutional. That does not necessarily mean there would not be exceptions made for some cases, like incest or rape, much like courts have made exceptions to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech to protect public safety.

Many medical groups oppose personhood amendments because of the side-effects they could cause. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argues personhood amendments could also be interpreted to make certain forms of hormonal birth control, like the pill or intrauterine devices, unconstitutional, too. Other forms of contraception, like spermicide and condoms, would still be available. The amendment could also make embryonic stem cell research and human cloning research illegal.

During a debate in the Republican primary for Senate, Ernst was asked who should be punished for performing abortions if a personhood amendment was in place. The Braley ad includes her answer.

“I think the provider should be punished if there were a personhood amendment,” Ernst said.

The question and the answer are both purely hypothetical, as Ernst later notes in her answer that such an amendment does not exist.


This ad centers on the personhood amendment introduced in 2013. Ernst never specifically advocated some of the potential effects of a personhood amendment, such as outlawing abortions in cases of incest and rape or banning some forms of contraception. But Ernst supported the amendment and, therefore, everything that comes with it. We rate this ad true.

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