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Iowa Legislature Advances Anti-Abortion Constitutional Amendment

Iowa Capitol in the spring
Michael Leland
IPR News
Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate have taken the first major step toward amending the Iowa Constitution to say it does not protect abortion rights.

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate have taken the first major step toward amending the Iowa Constitution to say it does not protect abortion rights or require public funding of abortion. The Senate approved language for the amendment Wednesday after the House approved itTuesday night.

Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said it will correct what he thinks is “judicial overreach” by Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in 2018 that the state constitution strongly protects abortion rights.

“This amendment will allow the people, not unelected judges, and not us, to decide the issue of who’s going to make laws regarding abortion,” Chapman said.

If the House and Senate approve the same language again in 2023 or 2024, it can go on the ballot in 2024 for Iowa voters to decide.

Democrats say it’s wrong to ask voters to decide whether pregnant people should have basic rights.

“It makes me feel as though my status as a human being is low enough and that my decisions about pregnancy and my own body isn’t valid enough—that the public should vote about it on a ballot,” said Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha. “It feels like you’re making my uterus public property.”

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll this year found 31 percent of Iowans support the constitutional amendment, and 58 percent oppose it. Eleven percent said they are not sure.

Republicans in the House and Senate previously disagreed on the exact language for the proposed constitutional amendment, but this week, the agreed on this:

“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.”

If the constitutional amendment is ratified, courts will look to federal precedents when evaluating Iowa abortion laws.

That could open the door to more abortion restrictions, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court chips away at the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the first six months of pregnancy. The conservative-majority courtsaid this week it will hear an abortion casein which it will reconsider whether Americans have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus can survive outside the womb.

Amending the Iowa Constitution would ensure that any rollback of abortion rights at the federal level would allow Republican state lawmakers to restrict abortion.

Anti-abortion activists in Iowa have been pushing for this constitutional amendment since at least 2019.

A group of nine anti-abortion rights organizations commended the legislature for advancing it.

“The Life Amendment represents everyday Iowans telling unelected judges, ‘You don’t get to just decide the abortion debate for us,’” said Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for LIFE, in a statement. “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.”

Jamie Burch Elliott, Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa, said in a statement the constitutional amendment is an intentional effort to ban safe, legal abortion.

“Lawmakers continue pushing their narrow political agenda over the health and wellbeing of their constituents,” Burch Elliott said. “And now with an abortion case on the U.S. Supreme Court’s calendar, we are facing the very grim reality that abortion access could be completely wiped out in Iowa.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter