DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa House of Representatives passed HJR 5 by a 54 to 38 vote on Tuesday night. This vote is the second time the chamber has passed the proposed constitutional amendment, now called the Life Amendment, that if ratified would add abortion and abortion funding neutrality language to Iowa’s Constitution.
The bill represents a compromise made with Iowa Senate leadership after the Iowa Senate passed an amended version of HJR 5 in April. The House initially passed the proposed constitutional amendment in January.
The proposed amendment responds 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 compromise language reads: “Life. To defend the dignity of all human Life and protect unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the point 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.”
“I believe the language is actually better than either of the original sets of language and maybe the House or the Senate. Sometimes compromise makes things better,” State Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, the bill’s manager, said, introducing the amendment to HJR 5.
He later explained that the compromise sought to make the language simple and concise.
State Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said House Republicans were not listening to Iowa women and said that Republicans who “wax poetically” about small government want to interfere with women’s health care choices.
State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, claims that the Iowa Supreme Court decision mirrored Roe v. Wade. “The Iowa Supreme Court decision does not expand the right to an abortion; it mirrors Roe v Wade. The Iowa Constitution must protect us from this extremist agenda. The constitutional amendment puts infertility treatment and birth control at risk,” she said.
State Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, criticized the compromise language removing “mothers” from the Senate language and also claimed abortion is safe. She said the amendment was about stripping women from having a right to seek an abortion.
“It completely eliminates the right to abortion altogether. Under any circumstances, you don’t have a right for rape. You don’t have a right for incest. You don’t have a right to save the life of the mother clearly,” she said.
State Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, reiterated why House Republicans sought to bring the proposed amendment.
“You don’t even have to be pro-life to support this. This amendment is a separation of powers issue. This amendment doesn’t even touch abortion laws. It doesn’t have anything to do with abortion laws on our books. It just corrects a power grab by the judicial branch and overstepping of their authority. If we allow a handful of judges to just erase every abortion law the legislature has ever passed. Then why are we even here? We just as well go home and and let the judges make all the laws. But a judge’s job is to interpret the law and not make the law. That’s the legislature’s job. And this amendment restores that balance,” she argued.
State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, challenged Democrats.
“What are you afraid of?” she asked, noting that Iowans will have the choice to decide what the Iowa Constitution will say on the manner.
Lundgren also noted that Democrats do not speak for all women.
“You don’t speak for me. And you’re certainly not speaking for the unborn lives that we’ve lost across the nation over decades,” she argued.
House Minority Leader Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, said the House has no business interfering with the personal decisions of families dealing with difficult pregnancies.
“You can trust people. You can trust mothers and fathers who are dealing with a difficult, difficult pregnancy to know what’s best for that family in that situation,” he said.
State Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, accused Republicans of manipulating Iowa’s Constitution.
“We are nearly three weeks over session, and we are ending the session by manipulating the Constitution yet one more time on the behalf of special interests by hanging out in the uterus of a woman. And this is absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “You preach smaller government. Yet you think you know best for women. You preach medical freedom because you don’t want a shot. You believe you should be able to control my body. You preached the right to choose because this is a deep choice, a personal decision. But you don’t think I have a personal decision on my own body?”
In the closing comments on the amendment to HJR 5, Holt reminded the chamber that House Republicans passed several pro-life bills and voters increased their majority in the House.
“Representative Konfrst and a number of others talked about polls. And I’m glad that we don’t legislate based upon polls, but I will remind everyone that in the seven years I’ve been here, we have enacted passed numerous pro-life bills. And in the November election, we came back with 59. That’s the poll I like, the poll I listen to,” he said.
“Nobody mentions, for those that oppose this language, nobody mentions, ever, the unborn child. Nobody mentions the second heartbeat. Nobody ever mentions that, ever. And that’s convenient, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?” Holt added.
He stressed that abortion will still be legal even if the amendment is passed and ratified.
“Folks have said that this will outlaw abortion in Iowa, and we know that’s not true. Prior to the Supreme Court decision that put a fundamental right to (abortion) in the Iowa Constitution subject to strict scrutiny, abortion was legal in Iowa based on federal law. And if the citizens of Iowa will pass this amendment, abortion will still continue to be legal based upon federal law. Everybody knows that,” Holt said.
He argued that the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision did expand abortion rights in Iowa, noting that the dissenting justices pointed out that the requirement of strict scrutiny and narrow tailoring combined with the case’s rejection of the undue burden standard would make any abortion restriction challenging to sustain, including late-term abortion bans or bans on taxpayer funding of abortion.
The Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders, a united group of nine pro-life organizations active in Iowa, celebrated the Iowa House of Representatives’ passage of HJR 5.
“Today marks the first step in restoring the proper voice of the people of Iowa,” Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The FAMiLY Leader, said in a released statement on behalf of the coalition. “In 2018, five radical, unelected judges stripped that voice away, declaring that they and they alone get to set Iowa’s abortion laws. Without constitutional grounds or any input of the people, they invented a so-called ‘right’ to abortion and then paved the way for future courts to force late-term abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion on Iowa.”
“But the vast majority of Iowans don’t want to fund elective abortions nor live in a state where a baby’s life can be snuffed out just moments before her first breath,” he continued. “The judges were wrong to silence Iowa voters and seize for themselves the power to rewrite the people’s constitution. Today, the Iowa Legislature was right to give Iowans our voice back.”
“The Life Amendment represents everyday Iowans telling unelected judges, ‘You don’t get to just decide the abortion debate for us. Because there’s one argument in the debate you didn’t take into account, one truth you can’t argue away: That little girl in her mother’s womb, she’s a baby,'” Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for LIFE and spokeswoman for the Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders, said.
The Iowa Senate is expected to pass HJR 5 again. Then, the Iowa Legislature will need to pass the proposed amendment during the 90th General Assembly (in 2023 or 2024) before it can go before Iowa voters for ratification. Proposed constitutional amendments do not require the governor’s signature.
Listen to the Iowa House debate: