Iowa House OKs constitutional amendment declaring no right to abortion

Senate will take up similar amendment next week

The Iowa House chamber is shown at the Capitol.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa House chamber is shown at the Capitol. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa voters are a step closer to being able to vote on whether the Iowa Constitution guarantees a right to an abortion.

The Iowa House approved House Joint Resolution 5 that would add language to make clear there is no constitutional right to an abortion or requirement for public funding of abortions.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the House approved the resolution 55-44, with three Republicans joining House Democrats in casting “no” votes.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said in his opening comment the amendment is necessary to correct judicial overreach by the Iowa Supreme Court, which in a 5-2 2018 decision found a right to an abortion in the state Constitution.

In addition to finding that the Iowa Constitution grants women a fundamental right to an abortion, it threw out Iowa’s 72-hour waiting period requirement that lawmakers had approved a year earlier.

In the court’s opinion, the law violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution “because its restrictions on women are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state.”

The justices concocted a right in the Constitution where none existed, he said.

“Here we are again,” said Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, noting that most of the legislators have been through a similar debate “a time or two.”


Although the House has not previously debated the so-called life amendment, it has debated a variety of attempts to regulate abortion and, according to pro-abortion rights legislators, the amendment resolution sets the stage for making abortion illegal in Iowa.

“I can’t even believe it,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said. “Three weeks in, and we are talking about reducing or eliminating a woman’s right to reproductive choice. I don’t know if ever in my life I’ve been this angry.”

The House resolution starts the process of putting a proposed constitutional amendment in the hands of voters. If the language is approved by the House and Senate this session and again in the 2023-25 session, the amendment could go to the Iowa voters for ratification by a simple majority.

However, the wording of the House Joint Resolution 5 differs from Senate Joint Resolution 2.

Both versions declare “we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

The Senate version, scheduled for a subcommittee hearing Monday, says the amendment is necessary “to defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth.”

The House version is briefer, saying the amendment is needed to “defend and protect unborn children.”

Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, found Republicans’ reasoning on constitutional rights intriguing.


“We appear to use them when they are convenient for us and not so much when they’re not,” she said. “If a mask is against your personal, constitutional rights, then this amendment definitely crosses some sort of line.”

Democratic legislators offered amendments, all of them defeated, largely on party-line votes.

• Nielsen offered an amendment that, she said, would make clear lawmakers do not intend the amendment to limit or prohibit any “measure, drug or chemical designed for the purpose of contraception.”

• Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, offered an amendment that would allow a pregnant woman to decide whether to continue her pregnancy or have an abortion if a doctor certifies her life is in danger if an abortion is not performed.

• Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, offered an amendment that said an exception would be made for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.

• Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Des Moines, offered language to say the amendment would not “prohibit or affect the disposition of unused embryos for the purposes of in vitro fertilization.”

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