IOWA LEGISLATURE

Move to add abortion limits to Iowa Constitution advances

Supporters upset by 'judicial activism' in overturning laws

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)
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DES MOINES — Iowans clashed Thursday over renewed efforts to restrict abortions in Iowa by amending the state constitution.

Those who oppose abortion rights decried judicial ”overreach” by the Iowa Supreme Court that must be challenged. But those in favor of keeping abortion rights charged Republican politicians with trying to strip rights from women.

“The purpose of a constitutional amendment is to establish rights, not deny them,” Urbandale resident Jordanne Beach told members of a Senate State Government subcommittee. “This perverse weaponizing of our state constitution would mean that it no longer applies equally to Iowans.”

Subcommittee members decided 2-1 to advance amendment language that eventually could come before Iowa voters to declare the Iowa Constitution “shall not be construed to recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

Republicans who hold control of the Legislature by margins of 32-18 in the Iowa Senate and 53-47 in the Iowa House are seizing on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ call in this week’s Condition of the State speech to approve a constitutional amendment they say is needed to undo a new state right to abortion created by unelected Iowa Supreme Court justices.

The state Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a law that would have required a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion. In 2019, Reynolds decided not to appeal to the high court a district judge’s ruling that a “fetal heartbeat” law violated the state constitution.

If approved this session, Senate Joint Resolution 21 would have to pass in the exact same form by the next General Assembly elected in November before it would be placed on the 2022 ballot for Iowa voters.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said the amendment is needed to “rein in judicial activism of judges who rewrote our constitution” and overstepped their authority by “usurping” powers reserved for legislators and the governor.

“When the Supreme Court of Iowa creates a new fundamental right under Iowa’s constitution, it is the responsibility of the Legislature to push back and say this isn’t your authority,” Chapman said.

Speakers opposed to abortion rights lined up during the hourlong Statehouse hearing to express their support for Maggie DeWitte of Iowans for Life, calling the state’s current situation “even more extreme” than the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Caitlyn Dixon of the Iowa Right to Life Committee said that “this amendment is what pro-life Iowans want and all Iowans need.”

However, Beach called SJR 21 “one of the most extreme attacks on reproductive rights in Iowa history.” Planned Parenthood representatives called Thursday’s action a step toward “stripping Iowans of their right to access abortion” and dismantling reproductive health care in Iowa.

“Iowans deserve freedom from political interference in their personal lives and will not be fooled by politicians who want to insert themselves in what should be private health care decisions between a woman and her doctor,” said Erin Davison-Rippey, Iowa executive director of Planned Parenthood North Central States.

Senators plan to move the resolution through committee as a session priority. House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said conversations are taking place between the two chambers but no agreement has been reached on the preferred language that would go into a constitutional amendment.

“Our caucus has proved we’re a pro-life caucus, we’re very strong on that issue,” Grassley told reporters, “but I’m not going to stand here and say we’re absolutely going to pass something that we really haven’t even talked about with the caucus.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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