Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear shown here in a file photo from January 2022, is emphasizing a message of inclusion in her campaign. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Just days after the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights in Iowa, state Democrats are advancing the message other rights could be in danger.
The Iowa Supreme Court released a monumental decision Friday in which the court found there is no state constitutional right to an abortion. The decision, which overturns a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling, opens the state to increased abortion restrictions or a ban, depending on whether the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
That court action could be a sign of things to come, some Democrats warned. Marginalized communities – specifically, the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color – could see rights stripped away in court or by the Republican-controlled Statehouse.
That’s why making the state welcome for all Iowans is one of her campaign’s main goals, gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear said this weekend at the state Democratic Party state convention – and a goal rooted in Iowa’s history of equality.
“We can make sure that all of our communities, no matter where they come from … no matter what, that everyone feels welcome in this state, everybody has a home, everybody has a path for success,” DeJear said. “We can do that in Iowa.”
Restricting abortion access is a major policy goal for Iowa Republicans – the GOP-controlled state Legislature was working toward an amendment to the state constitution, nullifying the Iowa Supreme Court’s former precedent that it held a fundamental right to abortion. There have not been any such major restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights, but activists say Iowa’s new law prohibiting transgender girls and women from playing on women’s sports teams in schools and colleges is a step toward restricting rights.
When the law was passed, Iowa Safe Schools communications director Damian Thompson said he expected to see further legislation that harms transgender people.
“As we’ve seen in other states, attacking trans inclusion in sports is the first step,” Thompson said in an email. “Afterwards, the goal is to systematically marginalize trans children from other areas, including but not limited to, public accommodation, health care, and education.”
Candidate Ryan Melton, who is running against U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra in Iowa’s 4th District, talked about history of progressive values for LGBTQ+ issues at the Democratic state convention. One of his siblings is transgender, Melton said, and his family supported his brother – and politicians need to extend that same support to LGBTQ+ people through policy.
“There are a lot of people in the community that don’t have brothers, sisters or parents to lean on,” he said. “And we cannot replace that void completely. But we can certainly fight for them every day.”
Advocates say other state legislation in recent years, like that which restricted teaching on certain “divisive topics” in classrooms and the “Back the Blue” act that increased penalties for protest-related crimes, are hurtful for Iowans of color.
Voting rights restrictions also disproportionately impact Iowans of color, advocates say. Iowa’s Voter ID law, as well as other recent changes to the state’s election processes makes voting more difficult, advocates have argued.
Democratic Iowa Secretary of State candidate Joel Miller said that most Iowans have gotten used to the state’s identification laws, which he supports, but the state has plenty of room to improve on making voting accessible. He proposed to automatically register Iowans to vote when they turn 17 when they apply for driver’s licenses.
Democratic candidates are preparing for a difficult campaign season approaching the Nov. 8, 2022 election. Most of Iowa’s statewide offices are Republican controlled, as are both chambers of the Iowa Statehouse. Both U.S. Senate seats and three of the state’s four representative seats are held by Republicans, and election forecasters predict the sole Democrat — incumbent Rep. Cindy Axne — may be in danger.
To preserve these rights, Democrats emphasized the need to organize ahead of the general election.
“We can’t just do it, me and Deidre, we need all of your help out here,” said lieutenant governor candidate Eric Van Lancker, DeJear’s running mate.
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