A proposed state constitutional amendment would either put a stop to judicial overreach on anti-abortion laws or devastate women’s reproductive health care choices, according to the dozens who spoke Wednesday at the Iowa Capitol.
Republican state legislators are advancing a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution that declares the constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion.
The proposal was drafted after Iowa courts struck down Republican-written legislation that attempted to mandate a three-day waiting period for an abortion and ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks.
The proposed constitutional amendment received its first public hearing Wednesday, and dozens of Iowans crammed into a room in the Iowa Capitol to make their voices heard.
Supporters said the proposal would protect the unborn and stop courts from what they think has been judicial overreach. Multiple speakers accused Iowa judges of making laws from the bench and derisively referred to those judges as “unelected.”
“(The proposal) is a piece of legislation we shouldn’t need but do. It is a bill that gives the power of lawmaking back to the people of Iowa through their elected representatives in the Legislature instead of in the hands of unelected, activist judges,” said Caitlyn Dixson, executive director of Iowa Right to Life.
Daniel Zeno, policy director for the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, pushed back on that argument, noting the judicial branch is a co-equal branch of government.
“There have been plenty of times the ACLU has disagreed with the court. ... That does not mean it is not a co-equal branch,” Zeno said. “This is yet another effort by Iowa politicians to ban abortions.”
A constitutional amendment must be approved by consecutive General Assemblies and Iowa voters.
The Iowa Constitution was last amended in 1998.
Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, accused legislators of attempting to put their personal beliefs into the Iowa Constitution.
“This bill would erode the fundamental rights of Iowans guaranteed by our constitution,” Elliott said. “It is shocking that legislators have proposed such a drastic measure in order to advance their personal beliefs.”
Joan Thompson, with the Iowa Catholic Conference, said she thinks there is no evidence that the writers of the Iowa Constitution intended to recognize the right to an abortion. She said the recent state high court rulings have raised the bar for abortion laws.
“The (Iowa) Supreme Court has raised the right to an abortion almost beyond the reach of the legislative process,” Thompson said.
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which was written in the same 2017 legislation as the mandatory three-day waiting period that the courts struck down.