House approves abortion amendment with new language

By: - May 18, 2021 10:50 pm

A 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling still protects abortion rights in the state. (Photo courtesy of State Library of Iowa)

The Iowa House voted in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make explicit that the state does not “recognize, grant, or secure a right to an abortion.” 

But the House did not adopt previous changes the Senate made in the language of the amendment, leaving the measure’s fate uncertain.

Republican advocates for the amendment emphasized that it would not outlaw abortion in Iowa, but rather would correct “judicial overreach” by the Iowa Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that a 72-hour waiting period was unconstitutional and that the state recognized a woman’s right to an abortion.

The proposed amendment reads:

“To defend the dignity of all human life and protect unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the point of birth, 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.”

The Senate’s version of the amendment reads:

“To defend the dignity of all human life and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, led debate on House Joint Resolution 5.

“For those that oppose this language, nobody mentions, ever, the unborn child,” Holt said. “Nobody mentions the second heartbeat.”

The amendment has a long road ahead before reaching the pages of Iowa’s constitution. The House changes mean the resolution will go back to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate approves the new phrasing, the amendment will need to pass the Legislature again in 2023 or 2024, then be approved by Iowa voters in a general election.

House Democrats objected vehemently to the proposal on Tuesday.

“This amendment, this bill is an attempt to turn back the clock to some imaginary time when there were no abortions … There were abortions,” said Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City. “And they were horrific.” 

But Democrats couldn’t fight for long: House Republicans set a 10:30 p.m. deadline for debate on Tuesday, restricting how long lawmakers could consider both the abortion amendment and a controversial policing bill. Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said she had never seen “such an abuse of power” during her 27 years as a lawmaker.

“You do not limit the voices of those you don’t agree with,” Mascher said. “You listen and you hear them out, even when it’s hard.”

Republican lawmakers defended the bill and noted that, ultimately, Iowa voters would be able to choose if it becomes part of the constitution.

“This amendment simply allows Iowans to make the choice on whether or not, or where our constitution stands on abortion here in the United States,” said Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta.

Abortion re-entered the national spotlight this week as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. The case might allow the Supreme Court to pare back abortion protections from its landmark 1973 case, Roe v. Wade.

In his closing comments on the proposed constitutional amendment, Holt said the change would not make abortion illegal in Iowa because the state is still subject to federal law.

“If the citizens of Iowa pass this amendment, abortion will still continue to be legal based on federal law,” Holt said. “Everybody knows that.”

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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.