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Republican Senators Advance Anti-Abortion Rights Constitutional Amendment

jake chapman
John Pemble/IPR
Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, proposed a constitutional amendment declaring abortion rights are not protected in the Iowa Constitution.

Republican senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would amend the Iowa Constitution to say it does not protect abortion rights.

It’s a direct response to a June 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that said there’s a fundamental right to abortion in the state constitution. Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, submitted the proposal in January, two days after a Polk County judge struck down the “fetal heartbeat” abortion law, largely on the basis of the 2018 ruling.

“Rarely do we get to see judicial activism so blatantly showcased, but we did in this case,” Chapman said.

Iowans for Life Executive Director Maggie DeWitte said the proposed amendment will help “undo the damage that’s been done.”

You are making it one step closer to allowing the people in the state of Iowa to vote whether our constitution should be amended,” DeWitte said. “And that is where the decision should be—not with unelected judges usurping their role.”

Opponents of the change say it would insert religious beliefs into the Iowa Constitution, and would risk the health and safety of women.

Jamie Burch Elliott with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said they have spent the past two years debating and challenging abortion restrictions.

“And ultimately the courts have ruled that most of these bills do withstand the protections of the Iowa Constitution,” Burch Elliot said. “It’s shocking that legislators have proposed such a drastic measure as amending the constitution in order to advance personal beliefs.”

For a constitutional amendment to take effect, it must be approved by two consecutive general assemblies and by a majority of Iowa voters.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling means there are stronger protections for abortion rights under the Iowa Constitution than at the federal level.

University of Iowa law professor Todd Pettys said if the amendment is approved, judges would have to look to only the U.S. Constitution in abortion cases.

“State or federal courts would strike down abortion restrictions if they violate the U.S. Constitution, but would uphold them if they don’t,” Pettys wrote in an email. “The Iowa Constitution would no longer provide any independent legal protection for the women challenging those restrictions.”

Sen. Chapman said this would put the power back into the hands of the legislature, and he said that’s where the power belongs when decisions are being made about abortion restrictions.

At least 29 Republican senators support the amendment, which is enough for the proposal to pass out of that chamber.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, was the one lawmaker on the three-member panel to not sign onto the amendment. She called the effort part of the “Republican war on women.”

“Historically the Iowa Constitution has only changed to confer additional rights, not take them away,” Celsi said.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds was asked Tuesday if she supports the constitutional amendment.

“I’m proud to be pro-life,” Reynolds said. “I’m never going to stop fighting on behalf of the unborn, and so I think you have your answer.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter