Planned Parenthood: Iowa could see ‘copycat’ of Texas abortion law

By: - September 1, 2021 5:05 pm

Protesters hold up signs at a protest outside the Texas State Capitol on May 29, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

As Texas enacts a law that bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and introduces new legal penalties for abortion providers, Democrats and abortion rights advocates are warning that Iowa could adopt similar policies.

“I would anticipate a copycat law,” said Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa.

Burch Elliott noted that several previous Iowa laws on abortion, including mandatory waiting periods and a fetal heartbeat law, were proposed first in other states, including Texas.

“Texas seems to start it, and then eventually things make their way up to Iowa,” she said.

The Texas law, known as Senate Bill 8, took effect Wednesday. It prohibits most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and allows individuals to sue those who enabled an illegal abortion — not the patient, but people like doctors, nurses, counselors and those who help pay for or organize an abortion appointment.

Legal challenges to the law remain, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue an injunction to prohibit the law from going into effect.

Iowa Rep. Steven Holt led debate on a proposal that would remove the right to an abortion from Iowa’s constitution. Holt, R-Denison, said Wednesday he had not looked into the details of the Texas law, but that “initial information is certainly encouraging for those of us are pro-life.”

“There are always discussions on how to advance protections for unborn children, however this law is just too new to know for certain if this is a direction we would head in Iowa,” Holt said.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, led the proposed constitutional amendment through the Senate. Neither he nor Gov. Kim Reynolds responded to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Reynolds and Iowa’s Republican lawmakers have been outspoken in their efforts to restrict access to abortions. 

Reynolds signed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the justices to reconsider the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to control their own abortion policies. Sixty Republican lawmakers signed onto an amicus brief this week, asking the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider the 2018 decision that found the Iowa constitution includes a fundamental right to an abortion.

“This Court must overturn ‘clearly erroneous’ precedent,” the brief reads, arguing that the decision “rests on erroneous and indefensible reasoning.”

“Nothing in Iowa’s Constitution’s text, structure, history, or tradition suggests abortion is a fundamental right,” the brief continues.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls issued a statement Wednesday condemning the Texas law.

“The truth is that Governor Reynolds and legislative Republicans have consistently undermined the freedom of Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Wahls, D-Coralville said. “Today’s news from Texas puts the right to abortion at risk in Iowa and other states.”

What are Iowa’s abortion laws?

Current Iowa law prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Minors must have parental consent to have an abortion.

Iowa courts have blocked several restrictive abortion laws in recent years. In 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a 72-hour waiting period requirement. The court ruled that the Iowa Constitution recognizes a woman’s fundamental right to an abortion.

But just weeks before that ruling, the Iowa Legislature had passed another, more restrictive law that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — something that can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. An Iowa court struck down that law in early 2019, citing the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision.

Lawmakers tried again to get a waiting period for abortions, passing a law in 2020 that required pregnant Iowans to make multiple clinic appointments for an abortion. An Iowa court blocked that law in June, once again citing the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court recognition of a right to an abortion. Reynolds plans to appeal the decision.

What happens next in Iowa?

Iowa lawmakers are working to amend the state constitution to make explicit that Iowa does not recognize a right to an abortion. The proposed amendment, as approved by the Legislature this spring, 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.”

The next General Assembly will need to approve the amendment in 2023 or 2024. If it does, Iowa voters will decide whether to add the text to Iowa’s constitution.

The constitutional amendment, if passed, could pave the way for more restrictive abortion laws in Iowa.

What happens next nationally?

Although the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to block the Texas law from taking effect, it still faces legal challenges. Either the Supreme Court or a district court may rule that the law is unconstitutional. Until then, it is in effect.

The Supreme Court is also set to consider a challenge to Roe v. Wade in its next term, which begins in October. A Missouri law prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In a statement Wednesday, President Joe Biden condemned the Texas law and reaffirmed his support for Roe v. Wade.

“My administration is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right,” Biden said.

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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.