Guest Columnist

Iowa Republicans ignore real crisis, threaten abortion rights instead

More than 250 protesters - chased indoors by a spring rain storm -- gather Tuesday, May 21, 2019,  at the Iowa Capitol a
More than 250 protesters – chased indoors by a spring rain storm -- gather Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at the Iowa Capitol as part of the national #StopTheBans Day of Action for Abortion Rights. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

Pandemic disease. High unemployment. Business closings. Police violence against African Americans. Mass protests.

The State of Iowa has a lot on its hands. And the Legislature has not been able to meet since March, when it shuttered due to the danger of COVID19.

Yet now that the Legislature is back in session, the Republican majority has decided that among its highest priorities is to pursue its war on abortion.

Their tactic is to try to undo history. In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution protected the right to abortion. The decision nullified a 2017 law that mandated a 72-hour waiting period before a client could terminate a pregnancy. In 2019, the same decision was cited in nullifying the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law, which – had it gone into effect – would have been the most restrictive in the country.

Like a child who doesn’t like rules that prevent her from winning a game, the Republican majority now wants to change the rules rather than admit defeat. Their proposal: Senate Joint Resolution 2001, which would amend the state constitution to declare that it does not protect the right to abortion.

But this isn’t a child’s game. It’s the constitution. And it’s the health and well-being of Iowans who work hard to make the best decisions for themselves and their families in complex circumstances. In a truly audacious move, the Republicans are proposing a constitutional amendment intended to reduce – rather than protect or expand – Iowans’ liberties.

Throughout this difficult season, Iowans have continued to rely on the services of abortion providers like the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City. Those providers have responded with enormous dedication and self-sacrifice, revamping procedures to ensure the safety of clients and staff. They’ve done so because they are passionately committed to Iowans’ health, safety, and well-being. They know that the fight for reproductive rights is inextricable from the fight for racial and economic justice, as poor people and people of color are especially likely to be denied bodily autonomy – whether that means lack of access to health care or outright violence.

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Iowans are mature enough to make their own health decisions. A constitutional amendment eroding their right to do runs counter to the advice of professional medical organizations, which support access to safe abortion care. And it runs counter to public opinion: a large majority of Americans support abortion rights. Members of the Iowa Legislature need to reject this bald attempt to limit our liberties.

Elizabeth Heineman is a member of the board of directors of the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City.

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