DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa House subcommittee on Tuesday morning advanced House Study Bill 41, dubbed the ‘Protect Life Amendment’ that would add abortion neutrality language into the Iowa Constitution.
(Watch the subcommittee hearing above.)
Republicans introduced the constitutional amendment during the 88th General Assembly in response to the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision ruling in 2018 (Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds). The majority opinion stated that the law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion violated Iowa’s due process clause and equal protection clause, thus finding a right to abortion in the state constitution.
The language of the constitutional 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.”
The amendment passed in the Iowa Senate but stalled in the Iowa House last session due to three House Republicans unwilling to support the bill. One of those House Republicans, former State Rep. Louis Zumbach of Coggin, did not run for re-election to the Iowa House. State Reps. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, and David Maxwell, R-Gibson, returned to the Iowa House in 2021; however, Iowa House Republicans expanded their majority to 59 to 40.
Tuesday’s subcommittee for the amendment was chaired by State Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, who, as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored the bill. State Reps. Anne Osmundson, R-Volga, and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, joined him for the subcommittee. They heard from exclusively pro-life supporters of the amendment. No member of the public in opposition to the amendment attended the subcommittee. Holt and Osmundson supported the bill, while Wessel-Kroeschell opposed it.
Maggie Dewitte, executive director of Iowans for Life and spokesperson for the state’s coalition of pro-life leaders, thanked the subcommittee and noted that the bill’s introduction this early in the legislative session demonstrates the commitment of the legislators to the protection of Iowans.
“I believe the people of Iowa and not on elected judges of the state Supreme Court should decide how Iowa regulates abortion. These radical judges took the rights away from all Iowans, thereby preventing common-sense protections for women and children,” she said. “What these judges did was even more extreme than Roe v. Wade.”
Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia have added similar language to their state constitutions.
Joan Thompson representing the Iowa Catholic Conference also spoke in support of the amendment.
“Our faith informs our position on the moral injustice of the Iowa court’s decision. But it is science and biology that inform our knowledge of prenatal life and the reality of abortion. It is not faith that is required to oppose abortion, but facts,” she argued.
“We believe that public policy of abortion on demand offends both faith and reason in adjust society and dismisses our obligation to protect the lives and the dignity of all,” Thompson added.
Denise Bubeck, representing The FAMiLY Leader’s Church Ambassador Network, pointed to Iowa’s abolitionist past.
“Just as many Iowans helped in one way or another with the underground railroad, many were driven by the conviction of their faith. They prayed and hoped for the passing of an amendment to abolish slavery. Today I’m asking you to stand on the right side of history and give dignity and protect life of these who are most vulnerable,” she said.
Over 1000 public comments were made online in support or against the bill. Sociliticing public feedback to legislators this way was a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and an option that opponents of the legislation opted to use rather than speaking at the subcommittee hearing.
For instance, Sarah Gross, a medical student at the University of Iowa, commented, “I have seen firsthand, as a medical student, what happens when people don’t have access to safe and legal abortion. Research shows that limiting access to abortion care does not decrease the number of abortions. Instead, the number of UNSAFE abortions is increased. This increase in unsafe abortions means an increase in the number of avoidable maternal deaths. Iowa’s maternal death rate is already too high.”
Access to abortion care is in our country’s Constitution. While there have been erosions to it over time, it still stands that abortion is a right across the country. In the SCOTUS 2018 interpretation of Iowa’s state constitution, it was determined that the Constitution afforded the right to abortion. Research also suggests that if you want the abortion number to decrease, you expand family planning services; you provide comprehensive sex education; you provide support to people in socioeconomic hardship. You do not take away their healthcare. People will get abortions one way or another. It is the duty of the Iowa legislators to ensure that Iowans have access to safe and legal healthcare, which encompasses abortion care,” she added.
Brena Corona with the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa registered her opposition to the bill.
“Abortion is a deeply personal healthcare decision that should be made by the pregnant person in consultation with a healthcare provider and possibly other supportive people, if they choose (e.g., spouse or partner, family, faith leader, friends). A woman should have the freedom to make her own choice about birthing a child. I can only determine that the Republican Party has issues with “control” controlling how Iowans live their lives as the Party appears to continue to focus on creating laws that take the decision making choice out of the hand of women and their significant “other’. If a woman is raped. she also should be able to have an abortion or at least be able to take the “morning after” pills,” she said.
“No law in Iowa should be passed to prohibit abortion. Neither should the state of Iowa refuse to pay for the abortions of economically disadvantaged females. The wealthy can always continue to afford paying for an abortion. SO, lawmakers are punishing the poor!” Corona added.
After the panel heard from the 13 speakers who attended the subcommittee, the subcommittee members made their remarks.
Wessel-Kroeschell started her remarks complaining that Holt did not allow for a longer meeting to receive more public feedback. She also complained that he and Omundson did not wear a mask during the session.
During his remarks, Holt pointed out that she was offered an hour-long slot on two different occasions. He also noted that he and Wessel-Kroeschell were properly socially distanced, and he does not take off his mask when that is not the case.
Wessel-Kroeschell added that the “extremist amendment” restricts a “woman’s most basic freedom.”
“This amendment denies a woman her freedom to make one of the most personal decisions she will ever make. I trust our women to make the right decision when it comes to their health. The Constitutional amendment is more than insulting to women. It is dangerous to a woman’s health,” Wessell-Kroeschell said.
“The constitutional amendment is dangerous. It includes the word abortion; it is a loss of freedom for women. Women will die,” she added.
Omundson countered her argument. She said the most basic freedom is not healthcare.
“I think the most basic freedom is life. Actually, this bill is not necessarily about life,” she said.
Holt defended the amendment.
“Most Iowans instinctively know that there’s a baby growing inside of a womb, but now a handful of elected judges have created a precedent in Iowa that could lead to making it illegal to kill a baby up until birth and make Iowans pay for it,” he said.
“There is more than one life at stake. When we’re talking about abortion; there are two heartbeats and two souls, and we have a process to amend the Constitution,” Holt said.
Something, he noted, the Supreme Court ignored.
HSB 41 heads to the full House Judiciary Committee for a vote.