IOWA LEGISLATURE

Hearing on proposed Iowa abortion amendment draws passionate responses

The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

DES MOINES — For two hours Tuesday, Iowans offered state legislators their opinions on the legality and morality of abortion.

Although unlikely, it is possible their heartfelt arguments changed minds, according to legislative leaders on both sides of the proposed constitutional amendment to declare there is not a right to an abortion — or for the state to pay for one — in the Iowa Constitution.

The public hearing House Democrats asked for may not change minds, “but for people on the fence, it gives them more time to think about their decision, about the consequences of their vote,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said Tuesday afternoon. “And I’m always happy to let them think about it longer.”

House Judiciary Chairman Steven Holt, R-Denison, agreed the public hearing was unlikely to change minds, but it gave Iowans “an opportunity to air their beliefs.”

Holt expected to hear the same arguments he’s heard in previous debates on abortion-related legislation. “But it’s important not just for the public to be heard, but for them to feel like they’ve been heard.”

Their chants and cheers were heard throughout the Capitol before the rally began. In three-minute speeches, they shared their opinions with lawmakers. An overflow crowd in the rotunda and people at home watched the livestream of the hearing.

“For the people who have been in this fight one way or another, their minds are made up,” Holt said. For those who aren’t as passionate about the issue or who haven’t made up their minds, the hearing may have made a difference.

That may be the extent of agreement for Wessel-Kroeschell and Holt.

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The proposed amendment, House Joint Resolution 2004, “bans abortion in the state for good,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

“That’s simply not true,” Holt said. “It doesn’t outlaw abortion.” He contends the so-called “life amendment” would make the Iowa Constitution neutral on abortion.

How can it be neutral if the word “abortion” appears five times in the amendment, Wessel-Kroeschell wondered.

Holt’s opinion is that Iowa would follow federal law. As long as Roe v. Wade is the law, abortion would be legal, but the state would not have to pay for abortions with taxpayer money, including Medicaid.

However, if Roe was restricted, he said, “Iowa would follow suit.”

Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa agreed, calling HJR 2004 a “poorly veiled attempt” by Republican legislators to take away women’s reproductive health rights.

Iowans aren’t truly free “if we can’t make our own decisions about our own lives,” Daniel Zeno of ACLU-Iowa said.

The decision whether to abort “must always remain with the person in consultation with the people they trust, not with politicians,” he said. The right to abortion is a state and federal constitutional right, but the intent of HJR 2004 is to take away that right.

“Of course, it wouldn’t do that right away, since that right is protected under the federal constitution, but as we all know, this is a part of a bigger effort in Iowa and across the country to ban all abortions,” Zeno said.

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Danny Carroll of The Family Leader read a letter from a constitutional attorney who said that because the Iowa Supreme Court decision that found a constitutional right to an abortion cannot be appealed, a constitutional amendment is the proper remedy.

Eric Borseth, a lawyer, said it was unlikely that those who wrote the Iowa Constitution in 1857 intended to include a right to an abortion. Six months after the constitution was adopted, the Legislature passed a law criminalizing abortion except to preserve the life of the mother. It stood for more than 100 years, never changed until “the court wanted the right, so they invented it,” he said.

“Now the only way the people can ensure that the supreme law of Iowa is clearly understood and correct the court’s ruling is to spell out for them what should have been obvious based on the original language of the constitution and the laws that followed it,” Borseth said.

Back and forth it went for two hours as speakers offered clinical, legal and often emotional perspectives on abortion.

Rebecca Shaw, a physician providing obstetric and gynecological care for 35 years, said her views on abortion have been shaped by caring for Iowa woman. She supports the availability of safe, high-quality reproductive health services and safe, legal access to abortion “as a necessary component of women’s health care.”

Iowa has the fewest obstetricians per capita of any states, Shaw said. HJR 2004 not only will it make it harder to recruit and train doctors to practice in Iowa, Shaw said, but “places ill-advised and dangerous restrictions on women’s reproductive choices.”

Renee Aamodt of Des Moines said that as a woman working in the construction field, she’s had many opportunities to demonstrate her pro-woman philosophies.

But abortion is “profoundly anti-women,” she said, quoting Mother Teresa.

“Well over half of babies aborted are girls. How is this pro-women,” Aamodt said.

In addition to being pro-woman, anti-abortion, Aamodt said she’s pro-democracy so she wants the law regarding abortion to be determined by voters, not judges.

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Frieda Bequeaith of Des Moines spoke of her “medically necessary” abortion when she was 15.

“One in four women have abortions, and I am one of them,” she said. “Taking away access to safe, legal abortion does not stop abortion from happening. This constitutional amendment only ensures that young women in our state resort to extreme and dangerous measures. It will not prevent abortions. It will put Iowans in danger.”

One more thing Holt and Wessel-Kroeschell agree on is that HJR 2004 is likely to come to the floor of the House.

“I wouldn’t have brought it forward if I didn’t intend to pass it,” Holt said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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