© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Iowa House Passes Anti-Abortion Constitutional Amendment

Iowa Capitol with snow
Michael Leland
IPR file
Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for more abortion restrictions.

Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment Wednesday night that would open the door to more abortion restrictions.

The legislation would add language to the Iowa Constitution to say it does not protect abortion rights. The 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.”

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said the amendment is needed to undo a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that said the state constitution protects the right to abortion as a fundamental right. Holt and other Republicans and anti-abortion activists have accused the 2018 court of “judicial activism.”

“It was actually the Iowa Supreme Court that amended the Iowa Constitution by judicial fiat,” Holt said. “We are attempting to return it to neutrality on abortion by following the proper procedure to amend the constitution.”

He added he just wants to make sure that Iowa’s current abortion restrictions—a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and a ban on public funding for abortion—don’t get struck down.

But anti-abortion activists in Iowa have been pushing for this legislation since 2019 to pave the way for more abortion restrictions.

House Republicans did not have enough support to pass it in 2020. After they expanded their majority in the 2020 elections, they were able to pass it 55-44. Three Republicans voted against the bill along with all Democrats, and one Republican did not vote.

“Since when does the constitution remove women’s rights or anybody’s rights?” asked Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo. “Isn’t the constitution there to protect our rights?”

Democrats introduced amendments to the proposal that would provide exceptions for abortions in the case of rape or a threat to the life of the mother.

“If the primary purpose of this proposed amendment to our constitution is really simply to figuratively spank our Iowa Supreme Court justices, then why not vote yes on this amendment?” asked Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. “All it does is allow Iowa women to keep a little tiny sliver of the constitutional right that they already have to terminate a pregnancy, and to allow them to do it only when continuing the pregnancy puts their life at imminent risk.”

Republicans rejected this amendment and others that sought to ensure birth control and in-vitro fertilization would not be affected by the legislation in the future.

The Iowa Senate is expected to take up the proposal again after first passing it last year. For the constitutional amendment to take effect, the Iowa Legislature would have to pass it again in 2023 or 2024.

Then, it would go on the ballot for ratification by Iowa voters in 2024.

If it’s ratified, any abortion restrictions that are challenged in court will be evaluated based on federal court decisions like Roe v. Wade, which give a lower level of protection for abortion rights than the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling. That would make it easier for abortion restrictions enacted by Iowa lawmakers to withstand any court challenges.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter