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Iowa Republican leaders say they want to wait for court ruling before restricting abortion

Anti-abortion activists held a prayer walk in Des Moines in July 2022.
Madeleine King
IPR file
Anti-abortion activists held a prayer walk in Des Moines in July.

The top Republicans in the Iowa Legislature said they want to wait for a pending court case involving the “fetal heartbeat” law to be resolved before taking more action to restrict abortion in the upcoming legislative session.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ request to revive Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban was recently denied by a district court judge. Now, she is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to reverse that decision and let the abortion ban take effect.

In interviews with IPR, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, said they want to wait for the court case to play out before trying to pass a new abortion ban.

Grassley said he doesn’t want to do anything that would “jeopardize” the court’s decision.

“I’m of the opinion that…we’re going to get one shot to do this,” Grassley said. “And that when we do this, we need to have seen what the courts come up with. And then we act.”

Whitver said it would be wise to wait for a court decision before passing new abortion laws.

“Really, there is no standard in state law from our state supreme court on what would be allowed or not allowed,” he said. “And so that would be the point of trying to get the heartbeat bill that we passed back in 2018, to get that through the court system to see what the supreme court says is the new standard in the state of Iowa.”

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in June that the Iowa Constitution does not protect abortion rights as a fundamental right, overturning a 2018 opinion. But the court did not establish a new legal standard for abortion rights.

Grassley and Whitver declined to say how far they would want to go in banning abortion if the Iowa Supreme Court opens the door to a full ban.

“We’d have to have a very, very thorough caucus [meeting] on that,” Whitver said. “We have people that are all over the board on it.”

Both said they still support the “fetal heartbeat” law, which would ban abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions. Abortion is legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said Republicans will “stop at nothing to take away reproductive freedom.”

“I just don’t think they’re going to be able to help themselves,” Konfrst said. “They’re going to do something with regard to limiting abortion access in this state and further limiting it. I just don’t know what that looks like.”

Grassley also said there are “mixed viewpoints” on whether Republicans should vote to put an anti-abortion constitutional amendment on the ballot. They approved language for a proposed constitutional amendment in 2021. If they pass it again in 2023 or 2024, it would go on the ballot for voters to decide.

“I would like for us to just take some time and make sure we’re doing this right,” Grassley said. “I don’t want to do anything that may preempt any of the court decisions.”

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Republicans abandon the constitutional amendment after similar amendments were rejected by voters in Kentucky and Kansas.

“But we know that regardless of what mechanism they use, the Republican agenda is to ban abortion, either after six weeks or altogether, if they can get away with it,” Wahls said. “It’s a dangerous game that they’re playing with people’s lives, and I don’t think Iowans are going to stand for it.”

Iowa’s legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 9.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter