Second gentleman joins panel on abortion ahead of election

By: - November 4, 2022 5:30 pm

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, right, spoke with panelists about abortion rights at a Drake University event Nov. 4, 2022, hosted by Progress Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff told a Drake University audience Friday that abortion rights were not just a women’s issue and he called for men to get involved in the political fight defending reproductive health care.

“Men out there: Step up, and I want you to pay attention, because this is for everyone,” he said during a panel discussion sponsored by Progress Iowa and Protect Our Care, a national health care advocacy organization.

Emhoff said he first learned about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade in a phone call from his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, minutes after the ruling was released. That day, he heard from both his 23-year-old daughter and 81-year-old mother telling him he needed to act to protect reproductive rights.

Emhoff, an attorney, said those conversations motivated him to travel across the country meeting with health care and activist groups to discuss how the Biden administration can help protect reproductive health care access. Those conversations are necessary after the “horrible” Dobbs decision created a health care crisis, Emhoff said.

He warned that other rights may be at risk.

“If you don’t think this is important for you, if you don’t care about this: Well, they’re coming for other rights too,” he said, referencing Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion stating the court could reconsider other precedents on issues like gay marriage and birth control.

Emhoff’s visit comes just days before the midterms on Nov. 8 and one day after former President Donald Trump rallied Republicans in Sioux City. Democrats hope voters will be motivated to support candidates who will not further restrict abortion.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds has pushed for state courts to reimplement the “fetal heartbeat” law which would effectively ban most abortions after six weeks, and U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra all cosponsored the Life at Conception Act in 2021, which would ban abortion federally with no exceptions. Hinson and Miller-Meeks have since said they support exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

If Democrats are able to keep the majority in the House and win seats in the Senate, President Joe Biden will be able to sign legislation codifying Roe v. Wade, Emhoff said.

Other members of the panel, which included a Drake University professor, Planned Parenthood story teller and an Iowa labor leader, called for Iowans to vote to protect women’s rights. They urged Drake University students and young Iowans to participate.

“You have to stand up for things if it’s important to you, you have to take action on it,” Rhonda Fowler with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers said. “… Votes count. We know what we’re talking about, the elephant in the room, right? This is a partisan issue, it really, truly is.”

While speakers discussed the urgency of voting, the panel also focused on what resources are currently available for those in states without legal access to abortion. Wendy Chun-Hoon, director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor, encouraged attendees to visit the White House’s website,, to learn about how to access birth control, abortion and family planning services, in addition to answering questions on patient privacy and legal support for people seeking reproductive health care services.

Emhoff ended the panel saying that while recent events like the Dobbs decision and the COVID-19 pandemic have made people worried about America’s future, both he and the president are “optimistic” about the future.

“I’m meeting people all over … where you’ve got, whether it’s teachers, whether it’s frontline workers, nurses, whomever, all coming together to help their communities and be involved,” he said. “I’d like to see more involvement, and Drake should set the example for the rest of the country, because that’s that’s the one that I really want to see more: Young people get involved.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.