Continuing down their list of poor priorities during a deadly infectious disease pandemic, Iowa Republicans are offering a radical measure to limit abortion access.
The proposal would declare that the Iowa Constitution “does not recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.” If it earns final approval, it would give future legislators the ability to pass extreme abortion restrictions, and leave the courts with little ability to intervene.
This is in direct response to recent court decisions that anti-abortion advocates don’t like. Under total Republican control of state government the past four years, policymakers have repeatedly infringed on reproductive rights, setting up expensive legal battles and getting rebuked by judges.
The GOP campaign against family planning appears to be backfiring. After a decadeslong decline in the number of abortions performed in our state, the figure jumped up by 25 percent between 2018 and 2019, the Associated Press reported last year.
There’s a clear line between the increase in abortions and Iowa’s decision in 2017 to turn down federal family planning funds. State officials set up their own program, allowing them to exclude organizations that also perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.
The state published a lengthy list of eligible providers, but it turned out many were not actually set up to provide those services, as former Gazette columnist Lynda Waddington reported at the time.
“An assistant in a neurologist’s office laughed when I asked if I could make an appointment for a Pap smear. … One of the listed phone numbers is a direct line to an operating room at St. Luke’s Hospital,” Waddington wrote in 2018.
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All that has made it harder for low-income Iowans to get birth control counseling, contraception, testing and exams. We know those very same services are associated with lower abortion rates. Instead of making them more accessible, legislative Republicans are determined to restrict abortion rights.
An amendment to nix abortion rights in the Iowa Constitution passed the Iowa Senate last year, but not the full House. Republicans have since increased their majorities. Reintroduced this year, it has already been approved by the full House and Senate action is expected next week.
In Iowa, constitutional amendments must get approval in two separate general assemblies and a statewide ballot measure. Lawmakers would need to pass it in both chambers this year or next, again in 2023 or 2024, and then turn it over to voters.
Iowans are narrowly divided on abortion rights. While 48 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 45 percent believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last year, support for an anti-abortion constitutional amendment is paltry: Just 33 percent support it, while 54 percent oppose.
A statewide vote on abortion rights — which could come as early as 2023, or could be scheduled to coincide with the 2024 general election — would put Iowa in the middle of a contentious culture war debate. It would invite vast sums of outside political spending on both sides of the issue, potentially drowning out the views of Iowans.
What’s more, Republicans are pushing forward with the amendment at a time when public input in the legislative process is limited. Many Iowans will choose not to visit the Statehouse this year because legislative leaders haven’t taken basic steps to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
So far this legislative session, Republicans have offered little action on the issues that might unite Iowans, like getting the pandemic under control and bolstering economic opportunity. Instead, they’re taking up a divisive agenda that threatens our individual rights.
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