IOWA LEGISLATURE

For both sides in Iowa abortion debate, current legislation is part of something bigger

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

DES MOINES — A trio of abortion-related bills were approved on party-line votes in the Republican-controlled House Human Resources Committee on Tuesday, making them eligible for consideration by the full House.

The bills would require facilities where abortions are performed to be licensed and inspected by a state agency, mandate information given to women considering a medication abortion, and require death certificates be filed for fetal deaths after 12 weeks of gestation.

Across the rotunda, GOP senators on a subcommittee advanced a bill requiring doctors to offer ultrasounds to any woman having an abortion. The legislation also would require a three-day waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. Such requirements have been struck down by myriad state courts, including Iowa’s.

Alyssa Miller-Hurley, with NARAL Pro-Choice Iowa, said Senate File 2215 mandates “an unnecessary and invasive procedure with the purpose of shaming (the woman).”

The actions come as the Legislature heads toward the Friday deadline for non-money and policy bills to be passed by at least one standing committee in either chamber to remain eligible.

While abortion rights supporters don’t see the bills being as far-reaching as past attempts to ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — after about six weeks gestation — or after 20 weeks, the bills are intended to erect barriers to legal abortions, Daniel Zeno of ACLU-Iowa said.

Anti-abortion groups are playing a form of political small ball, chipping away at access to abortion rather than seeking the sort of bans that have been struck down by courts, he said.

It represents a shift in strategy by anti-abortion groups, Zeno said.

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“This year, we’re seeing an onslaught of bills trying to regulate abortion to the point it’s no longer accessible,” he said.

The bills lawmakers have been considering this year “are part of a bigger effort to ban abortion,” he has said at a series of subcommittee hearings.

“We are creating a barrier to access to people who are already facing systemic barriers put into place by the people in this room,” Miller-Hurley told the Senate subcommittee Tuesday.

Danny Carroll, who has been a leader of anti-abortion efforts as a legislator and now as a lobbyist for the Family Leader, doesn’t see it as a change in strategy so much as using the tools available.

“It’s a reflection of people who believe passionately life begins at conception,” Carroll said. “They’re doing whatever they can to protect life.”

There’s no arguing that the 2018 decision by the Iowa Supreme Court striking down a 72-hour waiting period and, indirectly, the fetal heartbeat legislation, “put a big hurdle in front of virtually any attempt to regulate abortion,” Carroll said.

In 2018, a divided Iowa Supreme Court struck down the law requiring a waiting period, saying it violated the right to equal protection under the Iowa Constitution. Importantly, the court ruled it applied the standard of “strict scrutiny” in weighing the question of abortion rights to ensure the statute was “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.”

Because of that heightened level of review, the “heartbeat” challenge never actually went before the state Supreme Court. A district court judge struck down the law, and Reynolds reached an “extremely difficult decision” not to appeal to the high court.

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The bills approved by the House Human Resources Committee are in line with the “pretty consistent effort to ban, require waiting periods and regulate what women have to view before having an abortion,” Zeno said.

It’s clear to Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, the bills are attempts to further restrict access to abortions in Iowa.

“They want these additional burdens because they want to close the (Planned Parenthood) clinics,” Wessel-Kroeschell said about HSB 678, which would require facilities to be licensed and inspected. “This is bill Number 4 this year of the ‘we want to close clinics’ this year.”

Zeno sees that as part of the national strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found a right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution.

In response to the Iowa Supreme Court decision that the Iowa Constitution includes a right to an abortion, anti-abortion forces are calling for an amendment to make clear there is no constitutional right to an abortion or for the state to pay for abortions. On party-line votes, majority Republicans in the Senate and in the House Judiciary Committee have approved the amendment language.

The amendment to the Iowa Constitution would not be an outright ban, Zeno said, but if approved by voters and Roe is overturned, “it opens the door for the Legislature to legislate away abortion.”

The amendment, which has to be approved by a future Legislature as well as the voters, and the bills moving in the Legislature this year are an indication of the staying power of the anti-abortion movement, Carroll said. When he arrived in the Legislature in 1995, he said, the abortion issue that year was whether to require statistical reporting of abortions.

“The issue has not gone away,” he said. “It will never go away.”

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

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