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Iowa attorney general candidates disagree on defending certain abortion restrictions

Brenna Bird is running as a Republican for Iowa attorney general against long-standing incumbent Democrat Tom Miller.
Natalie Krebs
Brenna Bird is running as a Republican for Iowa attorney general against long-standing incumbent Democrat Tom Miller.

The Republican running for attorney general of Iowa said she would defend abortion restrictions in court if elected, while the Democratic attorney general said he believes overturning Roe v. Wade was a mistake.

Republican candidate Brenna Bird said she would have defended a 2018 Iowa law that would ban most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

“I’m 100 percent pro-life, and it will be my job as attorney general to defend the law that the legislature would pass,” Bird said.

She declined to say what kinds of abortion restrictions she might recommend to lawmakers.

Bird accused Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, of not doing his job when he refused to defend the “fetal heartbeat” law, leaving the case to private attorneys.

Miller said it was the ethical thing to do because he didn’t feel he could zealously represent the state.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court made a big mistake in overturning Roe v. Wade.

“I think Roe was the right formula to deal with abortion in our country,” Miller said. “And you know, I think that a lot of women feel incredible threats in terms of their liberty, in terms of their freedom to take care of their own medical conditions. And I support them in that.”

His office defended the state’s 24-hour abortion waiting period in court earlier this year and asked the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn very strong legal protections for abortion rights. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed, and the waiting period is now in effect.

Miller then withdrew from the case when Gov. Kim Reynolds decided to ask the Court to reconsiderits ruling and further undermine abortion rights protections. He said that was only the second time in 40 years that he refused to defend a state law, and that it was a direct attack on “Iowa’s version of Roe.”

Bird and Miller made their comments Friday during a taping of Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.

Lucius Pham
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

The attorney general’s office represents the state in lawsuits, provides legal advice to state agencies, assists with criminal prosecutions, and works on consumer protection and civil rights issues.

Miller is the longest-serving state attorney general in the United States. He was Iowa’s attorney general from 1979 to 1991 and again from 1995 to the present.

In 2019, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed a bill that would have limited the attorney general’s authorityto join out-of-state lawsuits. Instead, Miller agreed to not join out-of-state lawsuits on behalf of the state without Reynolds’ permission.

Republican leaders criticized Miller for joining multi-state lawsuits against actions taken by former President Donald Trump.

Bird said she would like to sue President Joe Biden over COVID requirements, water quality regulations and U.S.-Mexico border policies.

Bird was elected Guthrie County Attorney in 2018 and is president-elect of the Iowa County Attorneys Association. She previously worked for former Gov. Terry Branstad former Congressman Steve King.

Bird also challenged Miller in 2010 and lost, but Republicans believe they have a chance at beating Miller this year.

Bird and Miller were asked if they accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“I do believe that Joe Biden is our president,” Bird said. “I have a lot of concerns, though, about election integrity.”

She added that she believes Iowa’s election system works well and that she support measures like the state’s voter ID requirement.

Miller said he believes the results of the 2020 presidential election, and he praised Iowa’s election officials.

“They’re independent, and when the numbers come from those county auditors, those are the right numbers,” he said.

Bird and Miller both said they oppose electing judges. Iowa’s current system of selecting judges has judicial nominating commissions that choose a few nominees, and the governor then appoints judges from those recommendations.

Bird said there is “some wisdom” to having judges confirmed by the legislature.

“We need that check and balance and that transparency,” Bird said.

Miller said the current system works for choosing judges, but he opposed the Republican-backed law that gave the governor more powerin choosing people to serve on the state judicial nominating commission.

Election Day is Nov. 8, and early voting begins Oct. 19.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter