Iowa House panels advance gun, abortion constitutional amendments

A close-up view shows intricate details on the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abe
A close-up view shows intricate details on the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Constitution Day isn’t until Sept. 17. However, Tuesday was constitutional amendment day at the Iowa Capitol as proposals to let Iowans vote to create a state-level Second Amendment and reject a Supreme Court finding of a right to an abortion advanced.

Neither idea is new. The proposed amendment relating to the right of Iowans to keep and bear arms — House Study Bill 9 — was approved by both chambers of the Legislature in the previous General Assembly. If approved this year, it could go to voters in 2022.

HSB 41, which calls for amending the Iowa Constitution to say it does not recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion, was approved by the Senate last year, but failed in the House. If approved this year and again by the 2023-25 General Assembly, it would go to the voters.

A House Judiciary subcommittee heard from several abortion opponents who argued that Iowa voters, not unelected Supreme Court justices, should determine what regulations to place on abortion.

“Radical” judges took that right away from Iowans with a 2018 decision that found the state constitution included a right to abortion, Maggie DeWitte of Iowans for Life said. That “was even more extreme than Roe versus Wade,” the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

“These unelected judges concocted a supposed new constitutional right that no Iowan voted for,” said Chuck Hurley of The Family Leader. “They effectively amended our constitution. As a lawyer, I can tell you judges aren’t supposed to.”

The subcommittee received hundreds of written comments, Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt said. However, no opponents of HSB 41 spoke at the hearing.


That’s because the lack of a mask mandate at the Capitol meant the public was forced to “endanger their safety ... during a tumultuous and dangerous time in American history time to give in-person comments,” Jamie Burch Elliott, of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said at a news conference of abortion rights groups.

“Let’s call this what it is: an attempt to ban abortion in Iowa,” Burch Elliott said. The concern is not hypothetical, she said, because Iowa lawmakers have introduced at least 70 bills over the past 10 years to limit access to abortion. “This is one of the most extreme attacks in Iowa history,” she added.

If approved by voters, Burch Elliott said, the amendment would lay the groundwork to ban abortion if Roe is overturned.

The amendment holds the potential to “return us to the days of back alley abortions and backroom abortions,” added Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. It will, “without a doubt, cause the death of Iowans,” Ryan said.

The proposed amendment now goes to the full Judiciary Committee.

During a Public Safety subcommittee on HSB 9, Richard Rogers, of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, told lawmakers that “the right to bear arms rises directly from the universally recognized right of self-defense.”

Iowa should join 44 other states in adopting its own version of the Second Amendment, he said, because those who have “weaponized the courts to remove constitutional restrictions on government ... now refuse to accept court decisions making it clear that the Constitution limits government, not the people.”

He warned of efforts to “pack” the Supreme Court, “turning it into a political tool and super-legislature.”

“Should this ever succeed, the need for state-level protections in the right to keep and bear arms will be critical,” Rogers said.


However, the requirement that attempts to limit gun rights be held to strict scrutiny makes it more likely courts will strike down public safety requirements such as background checks, concealed carry and permit to purchase laws, said Charlotte Eby, representing Giffords, the organization founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a shooting.

Statewide polling found support for gun safety laws, Eby said, including 86 percent favoring background checks.

“We want to make sure those laws will remain in place,” she said.

Referencing the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol and a recent shooting at a pro-Trump rally in Des Moines, state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said Iowans are living in a “divided world.”

“This amendment is going to help people turn to gun violence over and over again,” she said.

“One fundamental freedom every American should have is the freedom to be safe in our homes, our neighborhoods, our community,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “We live our lives without the constant threat of gun violence hanging over our heads. This constitutional amendment dangerously leads us in the wrong directions from where we need to go.”

A similar proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 1, is on the Senate Judiciary Committee agenda for Thursday.

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