DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa House Judiciary Committee passed HSB 41, dubbed the ‘Protect Life Amendment’ that would add abortion neutrality language into the Iowa Constitution, by a 12 to seven party-line vote.
The resolution advanced out of its subcommittee on Tuesday.
Republicans introduced the constitutional amendment responding 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 proposed 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.”
“This amendment is needed to respond to the judicial overreach of the Supreme Court. The legislature makes laws, and the court interprets those laws,” State Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, the bill’s sponsor and manager, said during the committee meeting late Wednesday afternoon.
“We also need this amendment because we could have late-term and taxpayer-funded abortion in Iowa,” he said, something he noted the dissenting justices in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Reynolds warned could happen.
State Rep. Christiana Bohannan, D-Iowa City, said the resolution is the most “far-reaching” the state has seen in decades.
“It doesn’t just put some limits on the right to abortion. It would eliminate the state constitutional right altogether,” she said.
“Given the current composition of the United States Supreme Court, it is possible the court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Without a state or federal constitutional right, there would be no right to abortion under any circumstances. The state legislature would be free to ban abortion altogether,” Bohannan warned, stating this constitutional amendment is just the first step to banning abortion.
State Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, claimed that the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 decision did not expand Roe v. Wade but mirrored the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“The Constitution must protect us from the extremist agenda proposed in this amendment. The Constitutional amendment puts both infertility treatments and birth control at risk. Many Iowans value both of those. There are no exceptions in this amendment for a survivor of rape or incest. There’s no allowance to save the life of a woman. Under this amendment, a woman has no right to save her life if she is pregnant,” she stated in opposition to the bill.
The language of the constitutional amendment makes the Iowa Constitution’s neutrality regarding abortion clear. It does not prescribe particular pieces of legislation restricting abortion. It also does not prevent the Iowa Legislature from expanding abortion.
What it does is take the issue out of the courts.
Wessel-Kroeschell stated that the claim the Reynolds decision could lead to abortion up to the point of birth was false.
“The Republican constitutional amendment is based on ideology. It is not based on fact. It is not based on medical science, and it is not based on the facts of the Iowa Supreme Court case,” she said.
Holt countered some of the criticism leveled at the amendment.
“When the (Iowa) Supreme Court created a fundamental right to abortion subject to strict scrutiny, which did not previously exist in Iowa’s Constitution, and is a higher standard than even federal court decisions and Roe v. Wade and other court decisions related to abortion,” he said.
Holt pointed to several states allowing abortion for any reason up to the moment of birth. He reiterated that the dissenting justices in Reynolds “that almost no ban on abortion could stand the standard that had been created” by the 2018 Reynolds decision, and they expressly pointed out taxpayer funding abortion and abortion up to the point of birth in their dissent.
“Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have already seen their partial-birth abortion bans stripped,” he said.
Holt pointed out 14 states already require taxpayer-funding for elective abortions. He pointed out that the Democratic Party platform calls for taxpayer-funding for abortion.
“So I believe that the people of Iowa and not unelected judges of the Supreme Court should decide how Iowa regulates abortion,” he argued.
Holt said the 2018 Reynolds decision goes beyond abortion.
“This really challenges the way our Republic functions. It challenges the legislature’s constitutional role in government to make laws,” he added.
Holt stated if the Iowa Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what goes in the Iowa Constitution and what laws can be struck down, legislators might as well go home.
He later warned that Iowa’s 20-week abortion ban and the ban on taxpayer funding of abortion are at risk if the amendment is not ratified.
The bill now goes to the Iowa House for a full vote. Also, on Wednesday, Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, introduced the Senate companion legislation with 29 co-sponsors. The proposed amendment must pass both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate during the 89th General Assembly and again during the 90th General Assembly before Iowans can vote.