DES MOINES, Iowa – On Wednesday evening, the Iowa House of Representatives passes HJR 5, a constitutional amendment that would add abortion neutrality language into the Iowa Constitution, by a 55 to 44 mostly party-line vote.
Three Republicans, State Reps. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, Lee Hein, R-Monticello, and David Maxwell, R-Gibson, joined 41 Democrats voting against the amendment. State Rep. David Sieck, R-Glenwood, was either absent or did not vote.
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.”
It needs to pass in the Iowa Senate and then pass in both chambers again during the 90th General Assembly before Iowans can vote on ratification.
House Democrats attempted four amendments that failed and then spoke out against the resolution during floor debate.
(Watch debate after amendments were voted on above.)
State Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville, said that his daughters planned to move out of Iowa upon graduation from college and inferred that women would not live in Iowa if the amendment passes.
State Rep. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said the purpose of the amendment isn’t abortion neutrality.
“Putting the word abortion in the constitution does not make it abortion neutral. If the goal isn’t to ban abortion, then what is the goal of this bill?” she asked.
“If this bill becomes part of the law or constitution, like laws like the 72-hour forced waiting period, and the six-week abortion ban would become law, making abortion virtually inaccessible, inaccessible for most Iowans,” Donahue added.
State Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said she is “exhausted” by the attempts to pass pro-life legislation and said Republican attempts to restrict abortion has led to a 25 percent increase in abortion.
“In fact, since 2008, when the legislature switched to the state-funded version of state planning programs, abortions have actually increased by 25 percent. Prior to that legislation, abortions had dropped 56%. So we’ve actually screwed it up getting the medical providers within the state to blame this rise on the state’s controversial decision to withdraw from the federal funded state planning program,” she said.
Abortions did rise between 2018 and 2019. Tessa Longbons with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, pointed out, “(D)espite the increase in Iowa abortions between 2018 and 2019, both births and abortions in Iowa were far lower in 2019 than they were in 2016, the year before Planned Parenthood exited the family planning program.”
Withdrawing from federal funding for family planning may not be entirely to blame for the increase in abortions.
Longbons, in her report, also suggests that the increase in abortions in 2019 is partly due to a sharp temporary drop in abortions in 2018. She also points out that Planned Parenthood raised the gestational age at which chemical abortions were performed in the state, and chemical abortions saw the largest increase.
“In 2018, Iowa’s Planned Parenthood abortion centers – which made up five of the six abortion centers in the state – performed chemical abortions through 9 weeks 0 days gestational age. However, in 2019, Planned Parenthood began advertising chemical abortions through 10 weeks 0 days. Early chemical abortions represent an unusually large portion of Iowa’s abortion total compared to other states, and the additional week may have accounted for some of the increase in chemical abortions,” they wrote in their report.
Brown-Powers also questioned Republicans’ commitment to smaller government. “I also find it very humorous when I hear smaller government, yet you spend a great deal of time in the woman’s uterus,” she said.
She also said if the amendment passes, it will force women to cross state lines to get an abortion and use unregulated clinics.
Abortion, however, will still be legal in Iowa, even if the amendment passes due to the federal Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions in 1973. All the Iowa Legislature can do is regulate it, something Republicans say the Iowa Supreme Court made more difficult by their ruling in 2018.
State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, pointed to Colorado and Delaware who saw decreases in abortion without abortion regulation.
“Why keep doing the same thing over and over again if it’s not working? Do what works. What’s been proven to work? Affordable health care, affordable adoption, easy access to contraception, funding of our crisis pregnancy centers, education, education, education. This amendment does none of those things,” she said.
State Rep. Monica Kurth, D-Davenport, said the amendment attacks women’s rights.
“This is a constitutional amendment that will no longer protect a woman’s right to end a pregnancy under any circumstance, including pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or when a woman’s life is at risk. As proud Iowans, we take pride in our freedom and have fought tirelessly for a life that allows us each to define our own path. For the first time in Iowa history, we are debating an amendment that would make a woman less free by crafting a constitution that takes away basic rights rather than protecting them,” she said.
State Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said Republicans are misleading Iowans about the bill.
“The Iowa Supreme Court decision does not expand the right to abortion and it mirrors Roe v. Wade. The Iowa Constitution must protect us from the extremist agenda proposed in this amendment. The constitutional amendment puts both infertility treatment and birth control at risk,” she claimed.
“There are no exceptions for a survivor of rape or incest, no allowance even to save the life of the woman,” Wessel-Kroeschell added.
“This is an extremist reaction to a fair and thoughtful Supreme Court decision. Under this amendment, a woman has no right to save her life if she is pregnant. No one wants to imagine these scenarios. But none of us can predict the future,” she noted.
State Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said sexism is alive and well in Iowa.
“And I can tell you this, if we were taking away the rights of men to make personal decisions about their bodies. There would be a public outcry. Men would be marching in the streets, saying, ‘stay out of my personal life.’ The government has no right to control my body. Why do politicians think they have a say over what I do with my own body? I would never dream of telling you can or can’t have a vasectomy, right? But sexism is alive and well in the state of Iowa,” she said.
Of the Republicans who voted for the legislation, nine of them are women.
State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, implied the legislature would victimize women with the amendment.
“This amendment would completely eliminate the state constitutional right to abortion. With this amendment, once a person becomes pregnant, her life is no longer her own. There is no right to abortion, even if the pregnancy threatens her life. And continuing with it could leave any existing children motherless. This amendment is not neutral to her. And if a 13-year-old girl is raped and gets pregnant under this amendment, the Iowa constitution would have nothing for her. Apparently, a person could survive an attack by a sexual predator only to become a victim of this legislature,” she said.
State Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, who floor managed the bill, addressed some of the points made by Democrats during his remarks. He was the only Republican to speak.
“It was actually our Supreme Court that amended our constitution by judicial fiat. We are attempting to return it to neutrality on abortion by following the proper procedure to amend the Constitution. And I don’t know why we would fear the people the people’s decision in this regard,” he said.
Addressing the arguments made about telling women what to do with their bodies, Holt said, “When I think of abortion, I think of two hearts and two souls.”
“I am pro-life, and I make no apology for it,” he stated, pointing out that he would like to see Iowa have a heartbeat abortion ban enacted.
“But I have no such expectation. My hope is that the amendment, if passed by the people, would protect the reasonable restrictions we have on the books, such as our 20-week ban on abortion or the ban on taxpayer-funded abortion. And those things are in jeopardy,” Holt argued.
He also added no one said rape and incest and other circumstances don’t matter. “We said that they were not impacted by this amendment, because we don’t believe that they are,” he said.
Holt also pointed out something missing in Democrats’ discussion of constitutional rights.
“And you want to talk about convenient constitutional rights. Considering you know, you give no consideration to the second life involved in abortion, the right to life for that unborn child. That body is never mentioned by those who argue in favor of abortion,” he argued.
He pointed out that Republicans have advanced numerous bills to help foster adoption, including a bill this year that would double the adoption tax credit.
Holt also added that the bill had nothing to do with birth control. He also pointed out seven states currently allow abortion up to the moment of birth and that Democrats’ platform calls for the taxpayer funding of abortion.
In his closing remarks, he affirmed that through their elected representatives, the people of Iowa should determine this issue.
“I believe that people of Iowa and not unelected judges of the Iowa Supreme Court should decide how Iowa regulates abortion. And if the prevailing standards of a maturing society truly are the prevailing standards, then surely, they would be reflected in the makeup and decisions of the legislature and would not need to be mandated by an activist Supreme Court stepping outside its constitutional bounds,” Holt said.
“If our Supreme Court is the final arbiter in determining what should be added to the Constitution, as well as what laws should be struck down that we the elected representatives have passed. And they base their rulings, not on what is written in the Constitution, but instead upon their unique view of what constitutes the current prevailing standards of our society, then those of us serving in this chamber and over in the Senate, we ought to just take our pens and papers and go home, because folks, we just became irrelevant. The legislature makes laws, the courts interpret, but not under the philosophy expressed in the ruling that struck down our 72-hour waiting period,” he said.