Iowa House panel passes abortion resolution; Senate likely to debate ‘life amendment’ Thursday

Iowa House panel passes abortion resolution; Senate likely to debate ‘life amendment’ Thursday

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The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — It appears the Iowa Senate on Thursday will debate a proposed constitutional amendment to specify there is no fundamental right in the Iowa Constitution to abortion or public funding of the procedure.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said that’s “a definite possibility” after the Family Leader tweeted that Senate Joint Resolution 21 https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=88&ba=sjr21 would be debated Thursday morning.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved the resolution — House Study Bill 577 https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=88&ba=hsb577 on an 11-9 party-line vote that sends the bill to the full House for debate.

Supporters on the House committee said the legislation is needed to correct a 2018 judicial “overreach” by the Iowa Supreme Court that “usurped” legislative authority by essentially creating a right that did not exist before the court’s 5-2 ruling to strike down limits on abortion.

The resolution calls for an amendment prescribing language that eventually could come before Iowa voters to declare the Iowa Constitution “shall not be construed to recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

“Don’t be fooled,” Rep. Karin Derry, D-Johnston, told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “Proponents of this amendment would have you believe that this is simply about making the Iowa Constitution silent or neutral on abortion. That this amendment to the Iowa Constitution is needed in order to prevent ‘late-term’ and taxpayer-funded abortions. That it’s about addressing judicial overreach.

“Don’t be fooled. This amendment is about restricting women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions. It’s about telling women what they may or may not do with their own bodies — with their own future,” she said.

Rather than make the Constitution silent on abortion, Derry said, the word “abortion” would appear five times in the 69-word amendment.

“Abortion opponents use such inflammatory, deceptive and frankly insulting language to mislead and to distract from their true agenda, which is to ban abortion in Iowa,” she said.

Committee Chairman Steven Holt, R-Denison, responded, “There are two lives ... two souls ... two humans” involved in an abortion.

“Republicans are often accused of denying science when it comes to climate change,” he said. “Unfortunately, the same could be said of those who are pro-choice. The science is clear. Life begins at conception.”

He went on to say it’s the people of Iowa, not unelected judges, who should decide how Iowa regulates abortion. In striking down the Legislature’s 72-hour waiting period, the Iowa Supreme Court said it “freed ourselves from the private views of the Constitution’s founders” in favor of interpreting the constitutional question by the “current prevailing standards.”

That created a fundamental right to an abortion where none existed, Holt said.

The ruling, he said, tests the Legislature’s constitutional role to make laws. The amendment is needed “to respond to the challenge to the legislative authority that is expressed” in the court’s decision to strike down the 72-hour waiting period, which, Holt added, led to a lower court striking down the fetal heartbeat law.

Without HSB 577, Holt said, Iowa is likely on its way to later-term and taxpayer-funded abortions.

The amendment would not ban abortion in Iowa but continue to make it subject to federal ruling and federal laws, he said.

If approved by the House and Senate, the measure would have to pass both the House and the Senate in exactly the same form this session and in the 89th Iowa General Assembly elected in November before the measure would come before Iowa voters, as early as the 2022 general election.

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