IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa lawmakers pass 24-hour abortion waiting period

Bill passes as support falls short for constitutional amendment

The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — As often is the case, the end of the Iowa legislative session again this year came down to a budget, taxes and abortion.

Throw in an elections bill that minority Democrats called voter suppression, along with a late-night retirement speech, and what was to have been the final day of the 2020 session will be continued Sunday.

In an effort to keep making progress toward adjournment, shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday, the House suspended its prohibition on voting after midnight and began debating a proposal to create a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.

Although members approved the waiting period, shortly after midnight representatives suspended their prohibition on meeting on Sunday and agreed to come back at 10 a.m.

Undeterred by the clock, the Senate continued to plug away, putting the final touches on a nearly $7.8 billion fiscal 2021 budget — $26.6 million more than the current budget, but status quo for many areas of state government.

Senators also approved protections for businesses and health care providers and shielded Iowans’ federal stimulus checks and business breaks that Iowans received to help weather effects of the coronavirus pandemic from state taxation.

It wasn’t the “grand tax reform” that Republicans had hoped for, “but COVID-19 hit and changed a lot in that conversation,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Jake Chapman, R-Adel.

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Before adjourning for the night, legislators opposed to abortion rights pushed through an amendment to House File 594 after they came up three votes shy of mustering the votes needed to keep their “protect life” amendment on track for a voter referendum as early as 2022. The proposed amendment was to specify that the state constitution does not include the right to an abortion.

The waiting period wasn’t the prize abortion rights opponents wanted, but would be a step in that direction, said House Human Resource Committee Chairwoman Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta.

“We always look for pathways that we can advance the pro-life movement,” she said.

So when the Senate amended HF 594 and sent it back to the House, “it was a good time to say, ‘Hey, let’s move this forward, and go from there,” Lundgren said.

The House amendment would require a physician to get written certification from the woman at least 24 hours before performing an abortion. That’s in line with the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs, Casey decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that a 24-hour waiting period was not an undue burden, she said. Now, 27 states have waiting periods.

“Iowa already recognizes waiting periods in the code for a reasonable amount of time to consider a life-impacting decision,” she said, citing the state’s waiting periods of 72-hours for a marriage license, 72-hour after a birth for an adoption and 90-days for a divorce.

However, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, found it ironic that at the same time the Republican-led state government considers it Iowans’ personal responsibility to wash their hands and wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Legislature wants to insert itself into decisions about women’s reproductive health.

“The fact is that Republicans trust Iowans to do the right thing except when it is a pregnant woman,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

Democrats were “appalled” Saturday afternoon when just hours before they expected to adjourn the session “Republican politicians plan to pass more restrictions on a woman’s right to make her own health decisions,” said Rep. Jo Oldson, D-Des Moines.

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“They’ve kept this plan secret for weeks and released it on a Saturday night so they didn’t have to hear from Iowans,” Oldson said. “It’s time for Iowa Republican lawmakers to be more transparent and stop the relentless attacks on the rights of Iowa women.”

The measure passed 53-42 with one Democrat, Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa, voting with Republicans. After a much lengthier debate, about 5:40 a.m. the Senate voted 31-16 to send the bill to the governor.

One fight that didn’t materialized was the restoration of felon voting rights. Lawmakers declined to take up a resolution that would have let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to allow felons to vote once they discharged their sentences.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, deferred to Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, on the issue. However, he said his thoughts were with crime victims.

“It’s a very emotional issue and secondly, all indications are the governor is going to sign an executive order,” Zaun said.

That has been the speculation ever since the Republican governor met with Black Lives Matter earlier in the week. Previously, Gov. Kim Reynolds has resisted that, saying instead that restoration should be addressed in the constitution, not left to the whim of the governor.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, agreed that a permanent solution like a constitutional amendment would be best.

“If it’s a bargaining chip every year that we can count on them pulling back from the table when it comes time to ante up, that’s disappointing,” Smith said.

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The historic passage of police reforms earlier in the week and retreats from pushing voter referendums on restoring voting rights and restricting abortion were a marked shift from the agenda lawmakers wrote for the session.

Although not in lockstep, Reynolds and legislators were focused on a number of shared priorities that included more funds for education, “upskilling” the workforce, expanding mental health services and providing more funds for outdoor recreation and water quality improvement.

As the evening wore on, the Senate voted 44-4 to strengthen the state’s animal cruelty laws. Zaun lamented that the House had “weakened” provisions in House File 737 that senators had previously passed. However, the revised bill still would protect companion animals and “prosecute the people that are abusing companion animals.”

“Countless times, almost on a daily basis, we hear stories in the media of just disgusting abuse of our companion animals that so many times are members of our families,” said Zaun, in urging passage of the measure establishing an aggravated misdemeanor for animal torture and providing enhanced current penalties for animal abuse and neglect.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said it was “a long road” to get to Saturday night’s vote, saying “we’ve done about everything that we could” in negotiating a bill that “takes Iowa out of the gutter of I think 49th in the country” in national rankings. “It’s not everything I would want if I wrote it, but it’s everything we need to move forward.”

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