Iowa inches closer to vote on abortion amendment

State Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment that would state abortion is not protected under the Iowa Constitution. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Whether or not abortions are protected under Iowa’s constitution isn’t something that should be left to the decisions of the Iowa legislators or the state’s Supreme Court, Republican legislators argue. 

Instead, it’s a decision that should be left in the hands of Iowa voters, advocates of a constitutional amendment on abortion rights say. 

Following a heated, two-hour debate in the Iowa Senate, Republicans are a step closer to bringing a referendum to Iowa voters. The chamber approved a resolution containing the proposed amendment on a party-line vote.

“What are you scared of? We’re asking to take it to the people of Iowa. Let the people decide,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, to Democrats who opposed the measure.

After several weeks of back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate finished a small part of a years-long process to pass the constitutional amendment.

Republicans say they are trying to head off judicial overreach and take power back from unelected judges. They point to the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2018 that struck down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. That ruled stated that the Iowa Constitution protects a women’s right to an abortion. The proposed amendment declares there is no such right.

For Democrats, the constitutional amendment isn’t a matter of giving power back to Iowans, but removing rights from women.

Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines said the constitutional amendment is part of a Republican goal to outright ban all abortions in the state and nationwide, she said during the debate.

“I can’t think of a single body part that is regulated more than a uterus,” Petersen said. “Not even the penis, which is responsible for 99% of all rapes and 100% of all unintended pregnancies, according to facts and science.”

The House is expected to also debate the amendment after it passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Before the House brings the constitutional amendment to the floor, it will hold a public hearing on the bill, which has not been scheduled yet.

To amend the state constitution, the House and Senate first need to approve a resolution in identical form. It would then have to be approved by the next General Assembly in 2021 or 2022 before it goes to voters in a general election.