Hundreds of Iowans gather at Capitol for abortion hearing

Hundreds of people gathered at the Iowa Capitol on Tuesday for a public hearing on a House resolution that states abortions are not protected under the Iowa Constitution. (Photo by: Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Tears and pleas with lawmakers filled the Iowa Legislature on Tuesday as women shared deeply personal stories as to why they support or oppose a resolution stating abortions are not protected under the Iowa Constitution.

Over and over again, supporters and opponents of the resolution shared their testimony with the House Judiciary Committee, asking lawmakers to take their experience into consideration.

The public hearing was likely the last opportunity for citizens have their voices heard at a formal hearing with state lawmakers.

Frieda Bequeaith, who works as a doula, said she was sexually assaulted as a teenager, which led her to get an abortion at age 15. Through tears, Bequeaith said she is proud of herself for having the strength to choose an abortion, even though people shamed her for it.

“I will not let this legislation shame me because I have worked hard to overcome the shame I felt when I was 15 years old,” Bequeaith said through tears. “I know I would not have survived that pregnancy. I would have rather died.”

Brittany Hruska, 36, said her grandmother was raped on a date, resulting in a pregnancy and the birth of her mother. She said her mother was raped at 16, became pregnant with her and had to run away from home.

“I think about the pressure my mom felt to get rid of me,” Hruska said. “And how she was told I would ruin her life.”

Hruska, who works as a neonatal nurse, said she sees babies born as young as 20 weeks and does not believe women should be able to get an abortion.

“They are small and fragile. They love to be warm and snug. They know their mother’s scent and like to be comforted by it,” Hruska said. “I’ve never questioned their humanity, but I do question ours.”

The amendment aims to nullify the Iowa Supreme Court’s June 2018 ruling that struck down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions and strengthened the Iowa Constitution’s legal protections for abortion.

The proposed constitutional amendment is supported by Republicans in the House and Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The Iowa Senate passed the resolution on a Feb. 13 party-line vote.

Advocates for the resolution argue the measure doesn’t ban abortions, but instead, gives power back to Iowa residents by allowing them to vote on the issue. Those opposed say it’s a step toward banning abortion because it will allow lawmakers to begin introducing legislation like the 72-hour waiting period without fear of the court striking it down.

Throughout the almost three-hour meeting, bursts of chanting and cheers sometimes penetrated the walls of the tense room where the hearing occurred, as hundreds of Iowans bearing signs and wearing colorful shirts waited outside in the Capitol rotunda. During the hearing, around 40 people spoke.

Ruby Bodeker, who is running for Iowa House, said that both she and her husband wanted to have another baby after they found out she was pregnant for the third time in 2008.

But the night before she went in for an ultrasound, Bodeker bled and the technician struggled to find a heartbeat the next day during her appointment. While suffering a spiked fever, Bodeker said she chose to have an abortion following her doctor’s recommendation.

“I still carry the dream from 2008 with me inside this box,” she said, gesturing to a blue box she brought to the hearing. “The dreams my family lost, the pain I still feel today, a wound that has been ripped open once again because of the actions of this Legislature.”

“The choice I made on Good Friday 2008 was a choice that was mine to make and I would make it again in a heartbeat.”

Serena Dye, 36, with Operation Outcry, an anti-abortion organization, shared a completely different experience.

When she was 15, Dye said, her parents pressured her to get an abortion. At the first clinic, she declined to get an abortion after she saw the ultrasound. At a second clinic, however, Dye said practitioners didn’t perform an ultrasound and told her what she initially saw was more similar to an “alien,” Dye said.

After her abortion, she said, she bled heavily and struggled physically and emotionally.

“I just felt so numb and extremely guilty. From that point on I became different,” Dye said.

The next time she became pregnant, Dye said, she faced complications because of an incompetent cervix caused by her abortion.

“The pain, shame and guilt never left, along with other feelings of depression, inadequacy and insecurity,” Dye said. “You see, not only had abortion ended a pregnancy, but I lost a child, it hurt me, my body and my future pregnancies.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he was appreciative of everyone’s comments, and that he plans on supporting the resolution because of his opposition to abortion.

“To me there are two heartbeats involved,” Holt said.

A House floor debate has not yet been scheduled.