Reynolds announces special session on abortion for July 11

By: - July 5, 2023 3:28 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds has called a special legislative session on abortion for July 11. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday she will convene the Iowa Legislature for a special session next week to enact legislation restricting abortion.

The governor issued a Proclamation of Special Session to bring the Iowa General Assembly back to the Statehouse at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. The action comes after the Iowa Supreme Court failed to reinstate a 2018 law banning most abortions, a decision Reynolds and GOP legislative leaders criticized.

“In 2018, I proposed, the legislature passed, and I proudly signed into law legislation that protected unborn babies from abortion once a heartbeat was detectable,” Reynolds said in a statement. “After years of litigation, the Iowa Supreme Court was split 3-3 last month in its opinion regarding whether a lower court’s injunction of the Fetal Heartbeat Law should be dissolved. This lack of action disregards the will of Iowa voters and lawmakers who will not rest until the unborn are protected by law.”

Under Iowa’s current law, abortion is legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The 2018 law would have banned the procedure in most cases after cardiac activity is detectable in an embryo, typically about six weeks after conception. The measure granted exemptions for rape, incest and to save the life of a mother, but included little guidance on how those exceptions might be granted.

In the prevailing decision, Iowa Justice Thomas D. Waterman wrote that “today, such a statute might take effect given the change in the constitutional law landscape,” as it follows the 2022 Iowa and U.S. Supreme Courts’ decisions finding no constitutional right to an abortion.

Iowa Republicans have not disclosed details on proposed abortion legislation, or whether they intend to pass the same measure a second time. The governor’s office and Republican leadership did not immediately respond to requests for comment on legislation to be brought forward for the special session.

Some GOP lawmakers support more a more restrictive law.  Twenty House Republicans introduced legislation in the 2023 legislative session to ban all abortion in Iowa, as well as stating that life begins at conception. Lawmakers did not pass any abortion measures during the session.

Republicans hold a majority in the Iowa House and a supermajority in the Senate, as well as the governorship and all but one statewide elected office.

Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of the Family Leader, a Christian conservative organization based in Iowa, has spoken in support of Republicans holding a special session to pass abortion legislation. In an Iowa Press recording June 30, Vander Plaats said he believes Reynolds should repass a new version of the 2018 law, though he said the Family Leader advocates for protecting life from “conception to natural death.”

“When you have such a divided court, 3-3 — and if you read the opinion, it’s a deeply divided court — I think what Governor Reynolds should do is call a special session, get the Legislature back in town, make sure the Supreme Court understands this was not a hypothetical exercise,” Vander Plaats said. “Repass it and let it run through the system again.”

Vander Plaats has also called for the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled against the 2018 abortion law to resign, be impeached or ousted. He said impeachment needs to be on the table if lawmakers were to repass the same bill and those justices “stay the course” against allowing it to take effect.

Democrats criticized the move for a special session. House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said Reynolds’ announcement shows she “caved to the special interests and is now demanding lawmakers send her a bill to ban abortion in just six days.”

“It’s clear the Governor and GOP leaders aren’t listening to Iowans because a strong majority supports reproductive freedom,” Konfrst said in a statement. “Everyone deserves the right to make their own health care decisions, especially when it comes to reproductive care and abortion. Politicians and judges have no place interfering in someone else’s decisions about when to start a family.”

Leaders with Planned Parenthood also spoke against Reynolds’ announcement, saying Iowans do not want abortion to be restricted and citing a March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll that found 61% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

“Calling a special session in the middle of summer for the sole purpose of stripping Iowans of the liberties they prize is not only unprecedented but shows the drastic lengths power-hungry politicians will take to pass deeply unpopular policies,” Mazie Stilwell, director of public affairs of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa said in a statement. “… Make no mistake — we are prepared to mobilize supporters across the state to demand state legislators reject any proposed abortion ban or further restrictions on abortion care.”

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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.