Iowa House advances proposed constitutional amendment restricting abortion rights

By: - January 27, 2021 9:36 pm

The Iowa State Capitol (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa House advanced a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday which would make explicit that the Iowa Constitution does not recognize a right to an abortion.

House Joint Resolution 5 proposes a constitutional amendment which reads, “To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

After two and a half hours of debate, the resolution passed the House, 55-44. 

The proposed amendment comes after a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling which struck down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. That decision stated that the Iowa Constitution protects the right to an abortion. 

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said repeatedly that the amendment would not ban abortion in Iowa. Instead, he said, it will return the Iowa Constitution to “neutral” and correct judicial overreach by an “activist Supreme Court stepping outside its constitutional bounds.”

“I believe that House Joint Resolution 5 is needed, because the people of Iowa, and not unelected judges of the Iowa Supreme Court should decide how Iowa regulates abortion,” Holt said.

Democrats said the passage of the amendment would pave the way to further restrictions on abortion or a complete ban on abortion.

“It is appalling to see members of this body exploiting this moment of national crisis to advance an extreme ideological agenda that is out of touch with the majority of Iowans,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said. She chastised Republicans for focusing on abortion while the COVID-19 has killed more than 4,500 Iowans.

There are several more steps before Iowa voters will see the amendment on their general election ballots. The current Senate must pass the bill. Then the bill must pass through the House and Senate in the next general assembly, which begins in 2023. 

House Democrats proposed several amendments to the bill, all of which failed:

  • An amendment guaranteeing access to hormonal contraceptives,
  • An amendment allowing women to end a life-threatening pregnancy,
  • An amendment allowing women to end a pregnancy due to rape or incest,
  • And an amendment which protects the use of unused embryos for in vitro fertilization.

Democratic representatives shared the experiences of family members and friends who had faced life-threatening pregnancies. Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, spoke about his wife’s life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. 

“I’m glad my wife and I had a choice,” he said. “I’m glad that we made the choice to save my wife’s life that day.”

Others spoke about women who were raped and discovered they were carrying a child against their will.

“You have no idea of the complexity of a woman or girl’s life or the trauma that she’s lived through,” said Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines.

In response to all four amendments, Holt reiterated that the amendment would not make abortion illegal in Iowa. Rather, he said, the amendment would make the constitution “neutral.”

“In spite of the repeated statements to the contrary, House Joint Resolution 5 will not make abortion illegal in Iowa,” Holt said. “House Joint Resolution 5 does not determine if abortion is legal or illegal, it returns the Constitution of Iowa to neutrality on the issue.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.