Miller-Meeks, Bohannan trade barbs over abortion in 1st District debate

By: - September 26, 2022 10:35 pm

Democratic candidate Christina Bohannan, left, and Republican incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks, running in Iowa’s First Congressional District, participate in a debate Sept. 26, 2022 on Iowa PBS. (Pool photo by Zachary Boyden-Holmes/Courtesy of Iowa PBS)

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Democratic challenger Christina Bohannan exchanged heated comments during a debate Monday about what actions Congress should take on abortion and contraception.

The candidates also disagreed about energy policy and its role in inflation. Abortion and inflation have risen to top issues in the national general election campaign.

Miller-Meeks, a Republican seeking her second term in Congress, and Bohannan, a law professor and state representative from Iowa City, participated in an hour-long debate on Iowa PBS.

On abortion, Miller-Meeks said she maintains her position that the procedure should be illegal with exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother’s life is at risk. She co-sponsored a bill introduced earlier in September which would ban abortions nationally after 15 weeks, with some exceptions. She said that she saw the 15-week cutoff as a “reasonable” time period, as she said a fetus would be pain-capable at that point in development.

While some Republican elected officials like U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley say that abortion should be a state issue, Miller-Meeks said she believes the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade puts the decision back in the hands of legislators at all levels.

“The Dobbs decision has turned the decision for abortion back to the elected representatives, and elected representatives can be state officials, but they could also be federal officials,” she said. “And I think that’s a position that is held by many within the United States and I think a majority, and it’s not an extreme position.”

But Bohannan said Miller-Meeks was not telling the truth that she supports exceptions to a national abortion ban. She pointed to the Life at Conception Act, a piece of legislation the representative cosponsored in 2021, which would criminalize abortion entirely but would not allow the woman having the procedure to be prosecuted.

Miller-Meeks did not specifically address her co-sponsorship of an act that would not allow for exceptions. But she criticized Democrats, who she said voted for a bill that would legalize abortion “up until the time of birth and even after birth.”

Bohannan said the Republican’s claim was “flatly untrue.” Bohannan said she would support a return to the former precedent set by Roe v. Wade, but would not support the legislation that Miller-Meeks was describing.

“This whole thing about abortion on demand until the day of birth or after birth, I don’t even know what that means,” Bohannan said. You know, the fact is that I don’t support that and I don’t know anyone who does.”

Miller-Meeks was elected in 2020 to Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, following longtime U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s retirement. She won the election against Democrat Rita Hart by a margin of six votes.

In the upcoming election, Miller-Meeks is running in the 1st District, which now encompasses much of southeast Iowa that the Republican currently represents after 2020 redistricting. The area includes both rural areas and cities including Davenport, Burlington and Iowa City.

This was the only scheduled debate between the candidates in the 1st District before the Nov. 8 election.

The candidates also sparred on Miller-Meeks’ votes on contraceptives. She and fellow Iowa U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson introduced legislation in July to make U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved oral contraceptives available over the counter. That same week, she voted against a bill which passed the House guaranteeing people the right to access birth control.

Bohannan said the bill Miller-Meeks voted against would give women the right to choose their own contraception.

“She voted against something that would let women choose for themselves what contraception they’re going to take, including some of the safest and most effective forms that work,” Bohannan said.

Miller-Meeks said she voted against the Democrat-backed contraception legislation because it would authorize the use of non-FDA approved drugs and devices, and would violate the religious freedoms of physicians or providers who do not want to prescribe birth control.

“They were putting physicians and other providers at risk,” the representative said. “That’s why I voted against that bill.”

Candidates disagree on energy strategy in Iowa

The candidates also differed on the best way to address rising costs and demands for energy in Iowa, in light of this summer’s high gas prices and the Inflation Reduction Act’s focus on renewable energy. Miller-Meeks said she supported reopening the Keystone pipeline as well as opening more options for oil and gas leasing on federal land.

But Bohannan said if elected, she would focus on addressing corporate price gouging in the oil and gas industries. She said Miller-Meeks has received campaign contributions from these industries, and voted against a measure to hold companies accountable. Miller-Meeks said her opponent was misrepresenting the issue, citing a KCRG fact-checker article which rated a Bohannan ad on campaign contributions from oil and drug companies as a “D.”

Addressing price gouging was not what brought down soaring gas prices, Miller-Meeks said, it was changes in supply and demand.

“So are gas prices down because the gas companies are no longer price gouging? And why wouldn’t they price gouge now if they were price gouging earlier?” Miller-Meeks said. “So gasoline prices have come down a little bit because gasoline was released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and because demand is down.”

Both candidates agreed America should become more energy independent, and praised Iowa for having a strong history of renewable energy use in wind and ethanol. However, they differed on support of carbon capture pipelines, which Miller-Meeks supported, and Bohannan said were “concerning.” The Democrat said she’s heard conflicting reports on whether carbon capture pipelines are a viable answer to climate change, but she sees a bigger problem in eminent domain.

Carbon capture pipelines have sued several landowners across Iowa who they allege have prevented their agents from surveying land. Some landowners are arguing in court that the state law granting pipeline companies access to private property is unconstitutional. While Bohannan said she supports projects to bring fuel costs down, she said eminent domain should not be used in service of these companies.

“This is a project where the government would be seizing property and exercising eminent domain for a large corporate project,” Bohannan said. “And you know, I do not think that that is what should happen with property rights in a free country like the United States.”

Miller-Meeks said she does not think property should be taken by eminent domain, but she supports exploring carbon capture pipelines to aid the ethanol industry.

“We’re talking to farmers, letting them know what the need is, letting them know that there’s a possibility to capture carbon that is generated in the making of ethanol and then to sequester that may help prolong (the) ethanol industry, which is an important interest within our state,” Miller-Meeks said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.