DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate approved an amended version of HJR 5, a proposed constitutional amendment that would add abortion neutrality language into the Iowa Constitution, by a 30 to 17 party-line vote on Tuesday afternoon after two hours of debate.
The language of the original 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.”
The Iowa Hosue passed HJR 5 by a 55 to 44 vote in January.
The Iowa Senate amended it to read, “Protection of life. To defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, 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.”
State Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, pointed the Senate’s amendment is the same language that the chamber approved during the last session.
State Senator Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, who supported the bill, said that many in the chamber don’t want to look at the reality of an unborn child in a mother’s womb. He said people want to pretend that the unborn child is not a human being.
“The reality is just the opposite. It’s a child. That boy that girl is a child. And, you know, at heart level, we’re at our best when we look at one another as human beings,” he said. “You know, now we’re going through this whole vitriolic mess of hate and accusations and race wars, you know, what? We’re all just human beings. Every one of us, black, white, Hispanic, whatever faith we are, we’re just human beings. We have to see each other as human beings. And so the constitution of what this does is it recognizes the fundamental.”
Carlin pointed out the cost since Roe v. Wade.
“If you were to add the Civil War, World War One to Vietnam, Korea, the American Revolutionary War, the war of 1812, the Mexican American War, the Iraq war, and the war of Afghanistan, all those wars, all that death, all that carnage, all that blood – 1,331,636 of our soldiers have lost their lives. The reality of abortion: we have aborted 47 times that number of people that it took to kill on a battlefield over hundreds of years. One in five children are aborted. Abortion is the leading cause of death. Heart disease comes in second at 650,000 a year. Did you know this? Did you know that an Iraqi war veteran who’s been wounded in battle has a better chance of surviving than a child in his mother’s womb in this country?” he asked.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, stood in opposition to HJR 5.
“This legislation seeks to define what rights people with uteruses do not have. And if we are going to take that step, to turn our constitution toward a different purpose to withhold rights rather than ensure to circumscribe rights rather than guarantee, to identify weakness left open to attack rather than rights to be maintained. If we are going to redefine what a constitution is, we need to reflect carefully on the human impact,” she warned.
“Whatever your idea is about what this legislation is going to do. Whatever you think the intent is when someone chooses abortion, know that this will mean there will always be Iowans in complicated situations, you did not account for situations in which you can’t begin to know what you would do if you were in their shoes,” Trone Garriott added.
State Senator Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, also stated that the legislation would take away freedom.
“Everyone deserves the freedom to make medical decisions based on their own specific conditions and circumstances. For the first time ever, the amendment would take away basic rights instead of protecting them,” she said.
State Senator Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, said the legislation would make women less safe, “Restricting access to abortion doesn’t eliminate abortion. It just makes it less safe and puts pregnant women and their families at risk.”
State Senator Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said supporters of the legislation were attempting to impose their religious beliefs on others.
“Does government make better decisions about our personal lives and we can make for ourselves? What does this separation of church and state mean? What’s religious liberty? Is it a license to use the beliefs of one faith to impose its beliefs on another? Is it a license to use the beliefs of one faith to deprive others of services and healthcare access?” she asked.
State Senator Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, called the proposed amendment “an egregious attack on abortion, on freedom, and an attack on health care.”
“This amendment is being advertised as being abortion neutral, and that simply is not true. 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,” she said.
State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, said that both parties should work together to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
“We should be instead talking about how we work together to keep women who are, how we work all together, to keep women who are not ready for childbirth by making contraceptives available and accessible,” she said.
State Senator Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, attacked Republicans over their response to COVID-19.
“Just think how many lives that could have been saved if Republicans had taken COVID-19 seriously,” he said. “If you’re as obsessed about living human beings as you are about so-called unborn thousands of Iowans who died from COVID-19 would still be alive today – human beings. So when you lecture us about the sanctity of every human life, it rings pretty hollow,” he said.
State Senator Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, argued the proposed amendment opens the door to further abortion restrictions, “This legislation paves the way for further restrictions and to chip away at Iowans fundamental right and access to safe and legal abortion.”
“This constitutional amendment is not neutral. Let’s call it what it is. It’s an attempt to ban abortion in Iowa,” he added.
State Senator Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, argued that Iowans should have a say.
“There’s 50 senators in this room that represents 60,000 people each give or take a few,” he said. “We’re simply giving the opportunity for those 60,000 people to make the right choice for Iowans.”
“I don’t think any of us should be afraid of the 60,000 people we represent. I’m not. Give them the chance to check that box,” he said.
State Senator Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, defended the judiciary.
“(The courts) are there to place that shield around our rights. And when we talk about the right to abortion, we frequently talk about rights like privacy, rights like equal protection and treatment under law and due process, substantive due process, to ensure the outcome of proceedings is fair and constitutional to our citizens. They’re not light questions, and these rights didn’t spring up in 1973,” he said.
“We’re here talking about a resolution designed to undermine the courts, largely because you disagree with that decision. A decision focused on protecting equality; a decision focused on protecting due process under the law; a decision based on privacy considerations. Our state has consistently led on these things. When the state infringes upon a fundamental right, as the court said, the guarantee of equal protection of the law requires the state to demonstrate, and action is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. That’s the question the court is resolving. And our state has acknowledged in our own constitution and setting a stronger equal protection standard than the federal government,” Boulton added.
State Senator Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, said he wanted to put the proposed amendment into a “deeper and wider context.”
“America had a society in the early 1800s where abortion was legal. It was legal in all of our states at that time. In the mid to late 1800s. state after state began making abortion a crime. It wasn’t because of religion that abortion was outlawed. To the contrary, it was a result of modern science, correcting a religious misunderstanding,” he explained, pointing out that the religious belief was that life did not exist until “quickening” when mothers would first feel their baby kick.
“Medical science showed in the mid to late 1800s that life began at conception,” Taylor added. “It was the American Medical Association that pushed for outlawing abortion. Advances in science prove that no, the baby was actually alive before it could be felt by the woman.”
He also pointed out that early feminists were staunchly pro-life, and many progressive activists before Roe v. Wade were also pro-life.
Taylor also pointed at the roots of abortion. “Its roots were in the upper-class eugenics and population control movement, and in men’s desire for easier sexual accessibility of women. Abortion can be a cover for unaddressed social problems,” he said.
State Senator Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said the Iowa Supreme Court when they struck down the 72-hour waiting period, “made up law.”
Quoting from another ruling to demonstrate this was not the only time the Iowa Supreme Court had done this, “‘Our constitution recognizes the ever-evolving nature of society. And thus, our inquiry,’ inquiry in the case that they’re deciding, ‘cannot be cabin,’ kind of a funny word, ‘cannot be cabined within the limited vantage point of the past.'”
“So we don’t have to pay any attention to the past. Have you thought about what that means for other provisions of the Constitution? Provisions you might like? But if the Supreme Court doesn’t have to pay any attention to the past, what might be next?” Garrett asked.
State Senator Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, accused Republicans of trying to oppress women.
“This constitutional amendment takes away personal decision-making power from women, taking away our freedom to make personal decisions about what is best for our bodies, our future, our families, and our pregnancies. This is about an all-out ban on abortion with no exceptions. This is about oppression, the oppression of Iowa women and girls. And when any one group of Iowans is oppressed, we are all oppressed. We’re oppressed because of the time and energy wasted, pushing people down instead of lifting people up,” she said.
Later during her remarks, Petersen referenced bills Senate Republicans didn’t support.
“Republicans are obsessed with extreme anti-abortion measures that take away women’s bodily autonomy while being complicit on toxic workplaces and sexual harassment,” she said.
During his closing remarks, Chapman pointed out that Democrats failed to mention why pro-life Iowans oppose abortion.
“It’s never ever a waste of time to protect those who are voiceless, those who, you know, may not have a name. But what I’ve heard from your side is this notion of choice, and yet fail to recognize that that choice is between life and death. And it fails to recognize that there’s another human being involved, another person with their own DNA, with their own heartbeat with her own blood type,” he argued.
Chapman addressed Boulton’s comments, “There’s a huge difference between the judicial branch being a shield and being a sword. What I view the judicial branch, what they have done, is used a sword rather than a shield. The reality is prior to June 29, 2018, not one of us would have said under Iowa’s constitution, there’s a right to an abortion.”
Addressing Bolkcom, he asked, “Abortion is the safest medical procedure for who? For who that procedure leaves one dead, and the other, perhaps wounded for life. So I ask, how is it a safe procedure?”
Chapman pointed out that Iowa’s Constitution is silent on abortion and does not give the Iowa Supreme Court the right to change it.
“(The Iowa Supreme Court) ignored their constitutional duty and instead used the opportunity that they found themselves in to create a new, fundamental right that does not exist in our Constitution. In fact, if you want that to be in our Constitution, put forward the constitutional amendment,” he stated. “Any one of you, anyone in the House, can put forward that constitutional amendment declaring that our Constitution guarantees a right to an abortion, but yet not one person has filed that bill.”
Chapman pointed out that Senate Republicans were going through the right process to correct what the Iowa Supreme Court had done.
“When I opened this general assembly, I said that this egregious usurpation of power will not be left unchecked and that it is our responsibility. It is our oath-bound duty to rightfully propose to the people of Iowa a constitutional amendment to correct this judicial overreach,” he concluded.
Listen to the debate below: