Republicans introduce Iowa abortion constitutional amendment

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Republican legislative leaders Thursday introduced a resolution that would declare there is no right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution, a move in the first week of the session guaranteed to prompt a heated debate.

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The proposed constitutional amendment comes in a response to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling striking down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. The court said in that ruling that the state constitution guarantees women the freedom to make their own health decisions, including whether to terminate a pregnancy.

"Autonomy and dominion over one's body go to the very heart of what it means to be free," the decision said.

A month before that ruling, the legislature passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed in May 2018 a law that was at the time the nation's broadest abortion limit — a bill that banned abortions at the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

However, a state district court judge struck down that law too in January 2019, citing the earlier supreme court decision and federal court rulings indicating such laws were unconstitutional. Reynolds decided the next month not to appeal the ruling.

In February 2019, a group of Senate Republicans introduced the ultimate in abortion control measures: a bill that would declare life begins at conception.

Sen Jake Chapman, a staunch anti-abortion lawmaker who led the subcommittee that moved the bill to a full Senate committee said: "We're not going to stop. We will continue to fight for life." The bill didn’t advance.

In March 2019, all but three of the 32 Senate Republicans signed onto a Chapman bill to amend the constitution to declare no right to abortion in Iowa. Chapman said his bill addressed what he considered judicial tyranny and overreach. It didn’t advance.

It is a similar measure that has emerged early this session and has better prospects of moving forward. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have said their caucuses are opposed to abortion and Reynolds said in her Condition of the State address on Tuesday: “We must protect life by making clear, through an amendment, that our constitution does not grant a right to an abortion. It’s time, and unfortunately it’s necessary.”

After going before a subcommittee Thursday, the proposal now moves to a full committee for consideration.

Chapman called the 2018 ruling "the most misconstrued decision I have ever seen.” He said the amendment would make clear the judicial branch cannot rewrite the constitution.

Speaking against the amendment, Jordanne Beach of Urbandale told the subcommittee that constitutional amendments should establish citizens' rights, not deny them.

“This perverse weaponizing of our state constitution would mean that it no longer applies equally to all Iowans, instead depriving those who may become pregnant of their most fundamental rights,” she said.

A constitutional amendment in Iowa must pass this year, again next year and then would go to voters as early as 2022.