Activist groups unite against proposed abortion amendment to Iowa constitution

By: - October 1, 2021 4:43 pm

The Iowa House has approved a new version of a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion rights. (Photo courtesy of State Library of Iowa)

Members of several reproductive health and activist groups held a press conference Friday, declaring their opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion and discussing next steps for political action.

“We need to remain together because this fight in Iowa is going to be long,” said Gabriela Fuentes, an advocacy strategist with Planned Parenthood North Central States.

The focus of the event was a constitutional amendment that Iowa lawmakers approved earlier this year. The amendment 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.”

If added to the state’s constitution, the measure would override a 2018 ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that determined the state does, in fact, recognize a fundamental right to an abortion. That Iowa Supreme Court ruling has been the legal basis to block several abortion laws passed in the state, including a fetal heartbeat bill and a mandatory 24-hour waiting period.

If the constitutional amendment were ratified, lawmakers could have more room to pass restrictions on Iowa abortions. 

“Already, people have to travel hours to reach Iowa City,” said Allie Wampler, an Iowa City abortion nurse. “If we lose our rights here, how much further will they need to go?”

Republican lawmakers emphasized in debate on the amendment that Iowa will still be subject to federal law on abortion, pushing back against Democratic assertions that abortion could be outlawed in the state. 

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

Friday’s event follows enactment of a controversial Texas law that prohibits almost all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue an injunction on the law, allowing it to take effect in September.

The Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear arguments on a Missouri abortion law that could overturn parts of Roe v. Wade, a 1973 court decision that provided legal precedent to protect abortions in the U.S.

What comes next for the amendment?

There are still several steps before the constitutional amendment is signed into law. The proposal needs to pass another legislative session. The soonest that can happen is 2023.

Then, Iowans would vote on the measure in an election.

In response to Friday’s event, Republican Party of Iowa Communications Director Kollin Crompton asked why the ACLU of Iowa, one of the groups organizing the event, was “afraid of a free and fair election and Iowans having the chance to vote?”

“Iowans hold sacred the God-given right to life, and they should have the chance to vote on the amendment,” Crompton said in an email to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

A September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that a majority of Iowans, 57%, believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. But Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeshell, D-Ames, said Friday that there were quicker ways to stop the amendment than waiting for it to come to a vote. If Democrats won a majority in the statehouse in 2022, they could block the amendment from ever making it to the ballot.

“If we elect individuals who support reproductive health care and abortion care, this will not come up in the legislature,” she said. 

Beyond that, Wessel-Kroeshell and other speakers encouraged Iowans to register to vote, to get educated on abortion policy and to get involved with reproductive healthcare groups.

The ACLU of Iowa, Progress Iowa and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence staged Friday’s event. There were speakers in attendance from several groups, including One Iowa, Planned Parenthood, the Iowa Abortion Access Fund and the Great Plains Action Society.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin 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.

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