DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate concurred with the Iowa House amendment to HJR 5, a proposed constitutional amendment that adds abortion neutrality language to Iowa’s Constitution, by a 30 to 18 vote on Wednesday morning.
The proposed constitutional amendment now 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.”
Having passed both chambers in the 89th General Assembly, the proposed amendment will have to pass in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate again in either 2023 or 2024 during the 90th General Assembly before voters can decide.
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.
Gov. Kim Reynolds applauded the Iowa Legislature for passing the amendment.
“I want to thank the Iowa Legislature for its tireless advocacy on behalf of the unborn. I’m proud that the Protect Life Amendment is one step closer to being on the ballot. This is an important step forward in defending the unborn and upholding the dignity of all human life,” she tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.
The Iowa Senate saw a contentious debate that lasted over one hour before the legislation was passed.
State Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, called for the amendment’s passage to rein in an unelected judiciary.
“The assault on the defenseless has silenced over 60 million, perhaps even more than 60 million since 1973. And that number mounts every day. This legislative body has stood courageously for the life of the unborn; regrettably, five unelected judges with the stroke of a pen fabricated, fabricated a constitutional right to an abortion under Iowa’s Constitution, this egregious usurpation of power will not be left unchecked. 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 said during his opening remarks.
State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, said lawmakers shouldn’t pass laws telling women what to do with their bodies.
“We differ greatly because it’s my body. You’re talking about my body. Many in this room might not choose to have an abortion or watch your children or your children’s children do so; I’m one of those people. You would want them to listen to you about good choices, especially to make good choices about sexual activity. But we are not perfect beings. And a woman harbors the physical result of those imperfections. With HJR 5, I feel like we are exposing what is my body, my female body, to the public,” she said.
State Senator Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said that Republicans continue their “war on women.”
“Abortion access is not only a health care issue, but it’s an economic justice issue. The Iowa constitution has been updated a number of times in our state’s history. In every circumstance, it was updated to modernize right or wrong or expand the rights of our citizens. This amendment would take rights away. And that is the wrong direction for Iowans,” she said.
“These senators want to metaphorically insert the narrow views of their party or their religion into the lives and private decisions of Iowans of childbearing age. Republicans pushing this amendment will tell you that they do not intend to ban abortion if this constitutional amendment becomes a reality. But we know that’s effectively what would happen if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade and turns the decision making power back to the States. That’s their long game,” Celsi added.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, criticized the House and Senate’s disagreement on the original language of the proposed amendment.
“I rise today to oppose this process. It was absolutely needless for us to send this back to the House and have them send it back to us again. This needless back and forth between the House and Senate leadership over minute word choices is posturing. It’s about power and control, a bunch of men trying to assert dominance over each other. And you’re using the private reproductive health care decisions and women’s bodily autonomy itself as pawns in this power play—shame on you,” she said.
State Senator Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, also stood to oppose the amendment.
“This constitutional amendment is another extreme attack on Women and Girls. It is part of a radical Republican agenda obsessed with banning abortion, safe, legal access to abortion care at the expense of the lives of women and girls in our state. It is no surprise that this constitutional amendment that puts the bodies of Iowa women and girls on the ballot comes at a time when the Supreme Court of the United States will be deciding the fate of Roe in the coming months with a court newly shifted to a philosophy that puts anti-abortion extremism over Americans rights to bodily autonomy,” she said.
State Senators Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, and Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, also opposed the proposed amendment during the Senate’s debate.
Several State Senators spoke in support of HJR 5.
“Today, as we sit here, the most dangerous place on earth for a child to be is in their mother’s womb. One in five of them will see the end of life. They will never see the light of day. One in four, and maybe more, will grow up without a father. We often talk about the mental health crisis of our children. Maybe there’s a crisis because those children don’t see that they’re valued any longer. Maybe there’s a crisis because they see no commitment from their fathers. And maybe the implications of that are so far-reaching as to redefine us as a nation and as a culture. Because how we relate and value and commit ourselves to protecting their lives and freedom was given to us as a duty by the Declaration of Independence and by our Constitution. How we value our children is also a reflection of our character as a people,” State Senator Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, stated.
State Senator Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, countered those accusing Republicans of waging a “war on women.”
“We heard about individual rights. Several people mentioned that on this side of the aisle here, and then we heard about an attack on women and girls, attack on women and girls. Well, ladies and gentlemen, what about the right, the individual rights of the girl in the womb? I didn’t hear anything about her rights over here. Does she have any rights?” he asked.
State Senator Jesse Green, R-Harcourt, said that Senators must speak for those who do not have a voice.
“The unelected judges did what they did and now we are here today. But we must be grateful about one thing with this issue. We still live in a country where the people’s voice will not be silenced. The courtroom will not have the final say, rather Iowans on what the future holds for this issue. There is a voice that cannot be heard though. And that is the voice that is in the womb. We must speak for that voice if our liberties are to be mean maintained,” he said.
State Senator Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, acknowledged he could not understand the issue of abortion in the personal way that women do, but also stated the right to life is foundational.
“I’m not a woman, I have a wife, I have a daughter, I have a mother. But I am a man. And so I’m not going to be able to understand that on a personal level in the same way. And I can respect that. I understand as much as I’m able. And I respect that argument. And I also understand the argument of bodily autonomy, right of privacy, something that was recognized back in the 1960s. And in the Roe decision as well, by the US Supreme Court, the right to privacy exists, it isn’t spelled out, but that is one of those rights that’s inherent. It’s obvious we have a right to be left alone. But as important as women’s rights and privacy rights are, to me, the right to life is even more fundamental. It’s more foundational. And to me, the desire to protect human life, especially the most innocent and vulnerable, is a cause that’s worthy, even when the desire to protect innocent life conflicts with other valid rights and other valid and understandable concerns,” he argued.
“The word abortion doesn’t appear in the Iowa Constitution. It never has. And there’s no euphemism. There’s no reproductive rights. There’s no freedom of choice. There’s no women’s bodily autonomy. These phrases do not appear in the Constitution. So to me, it’s an intellectually dishonest, and it was a constitutionally inappropriate decision by the court to come up with a rate that doesn’t exist in the document,” Taylor added.
In his closing comments, Chapman addressed the issue of abortion.
“We’ve heard that it’s my body. My choice. We’ve heard that it’s extreme legislation. Let me tell you what’s extreme. I’m not going to go into the details of what happens when a baby is aborted. When a suction catheter takes that baby out of the womb, that’s extreme. There’s nothing gentle about that. There’s nothing kind about that. The reality is abortion results in one being dead and the other, perhaps wounded for life. To suggest that this legislation is extreme is insulting,” he said.
Chapman also reiterated that lawmakers were following the Iowa Constitution’s process to change the language in the Constitution.
“We’re actually following the Constitution and fixing a decision, a feckless decision by a Supreme Court who used their power to usurp Iowans, not one person prior to 2017 could say that there was a right a fundamental right to an abortion under our Constitution. If you want that power, if you think that ought to be in our Constitution, then put forward a joint resolution. There’s a proper way to do it,” he argued.
Chapman also argued that at issue in the abortion debate is not just a woman’s body.
“I agree with bodily autonomy. I agree that you have a right to control your body the way you want. But we leave out the fact that there is another human being involved a person, a baby, their own blood type, their own DNA, their own eye color, their own fingerprint, their own heartbeat, from brain, our own circulatory system. And so while I agree that you have the right to bodily autonomy, I do not agree that you have a right to use that bodily autonomy, to terminate, to end the life of another human being,” he stated.